Entertainment Marketers 2008

Entertainment Marketers 2008: Susan Kantor

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You'd think it might be tough launching an edgy gossip program that takes delight in grainy footage, viral video and shots of stars caught unawares. By recognizing that the gossip property in question -- TMZ -- already had a stable fan base bred on the internet, Susan Kantor was able to devise a marketing plan that aimed to build on that foundation and lure new fans as TMZ expanded into syndicated TV.
Selected for:
  • Differentiating motto: "You make them stars. We make them real."
  • Careful placement in mall strategy
  • Snarky website also plays well on mobile phones

Ms. Kantor, senior VP-marketing at Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, armed herself with research. Warner found that consumers were less interested in red-carpet promenades and airbrushed photos and instead wanted to see more portrayals of celebrities as real people, in candid moments -- all served up with a little attitude.

Out of this insight, a motto was born: "You make them stars. We make them real." The slogan differentiated "TMZ" from the others in the gossip genre, and the line "Online now. On TV this fall" let people know this wasn't a new brand but a product that was already up and running.

The show launched Sept. 10 with the promise that it would deliver local stations a magazine program with a better gender balance that attracted more male viewers, and that it would deliver a younger-skewing audience than other programs in the genre.

TMZ is a unique property because of its presence on the web before TV. Aspects of the snarky site are also available to mobile-phone users, who can look at video galleries and see what might be on the next episode of the program.

Dirty laundry
Where most gossip media present a glorified view of celebrity -- even stars with problems seem glamorous and cool -- TMZ goes for the jugular, airing clips of famous folk using profanity and swaying around while intoxicated; it even named one alleged sex-abuse victim.

Citing Nielsen data through April 16, Warner says the season-to-date audience for "TMZ" is 58.4% women over 18 and 41.6% men over 18. Other programs bring in audiences that are more than 65% women over 18, Warner says.

Prelaunch promotions had what Ms. Kantor calls a "tongue in cheek" attitude to them -- a dash of humor but nothing mean-spirited. Warner made sure to target particular audiences within its potential viewer base both by demographic and geography.

"We were trying to reach younger audiences, the celebrity-news-magazine junkies and maybe cross over with male viewers," she says. Ads running in Maxim, for instance, were a little "risqué," Ms. Kantor says, while ads that ran in malls were placed next to stores that would attract "TMZ" consumers. "Maybe I wanted to be in front of Abercrombie & Fitch, but I did not want to be right in front of A Pea in the Pod," she says.

Ms. Kantor has loads of experience marketing TV programs. She joined Warner Bros. in early 2006 after stints at News Corp.'s Fox Inc./Twentieth Television, MTV Networks and USA Networks/Studios USA. Among the programs she's promoted are "Divas Las Vegas," "Malcolm in the Middle" and "Judge Alex."
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