Upfront 2010

Why Fall-TV Hype Starts Now

Ahead of Upfront, NBC Buys Ads Across Microsoft Digital Properties in 'Early and Often' Marketing Platform

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- TV's fall season won't start, as you might suspect, until September and October. But ads for those shows are likely to surface in May and June.

Adam Stotsky
Adam Stotsky
Just as it prepares to make its programming lineup for the 2010-2011 TV season public, NBC will launch an ad partnership with Microsoft Advertising to hype its fall shows starting in May across a range of new-media venues owned by Microsoft. The pact will have NBC promos running on everything from the Bing search engine to the Xbox video-game system and the MSN portal. The parties expect NBC advertising to run across 19 different Microsoft digital properties in all.

"'Early and often' is a critical and guiding principle for us," said Adam Stotsky, president-NBC Entertainment Marketing. "It's critical to tap into that power of fandom and use it as a marketing platform to maintain engagement in our current shows and to help spread the word about new shows."

NBC's maneuver is just the latest in a series that show the TV networks increasing their reliance on early outreach, more often digital than not. "Digital marketing and digital advertising is increasingly a bigger and bigger part of our marketing mix," Mr. Stotsky said. NBC spent about $85 million in measured media in 2009, according to WPP's Kantar Media.

"Early bird" methods have become more widely used over the last few seasons. Walt Disney's ABC sparked thoughts of fall in late April 2009 by running seconds-long promos for its new mysterious drama "Flash Forward" -- even before the network had publicly admitted it was picking up the show for the fall. News Corp.'s Fox, meanwhile, aggressively promoted its highly anticipated singalong drama "Glee" by running the show's pilot after one of the last episodes of "American Idol" for the 2008-2009 season. For its part, CBS last year gave affiliates promotional materials to tout programming in the 10 p.m. hour in advance of NBC's "Jay Leno Show" talk-show launch.

Outside influence
But NBC's move shows at least one network venturing outside its own properties for what appears to be a sustained push. In total, Microsoft Advertising expects to put ads for NBC programs in front of nearly 470 million unique monthly users. As part of the pact, Microsoft Advertising will also develop original content for promotions, using content related to specific NBC programs and tailoring it for different audiences that come to its properties.

NBC's promotional push via Microsoft's advertising properties will take place over different phases, said Vince Messina, regional sales director, Western U.S., for Microsoft Advertising. "The first phase is collecting users or first movers, creating interest among the core," he said, and then it will proceed to "tapping into those folk and speaking to them" at relevant times "all the way through the premiere dates" in the fall. Among the techniques that will be used are targeting based on "cookies," or data identifiers that can help websites recognize users; a website "roadblock" in which a "skin" promoting NBC graphically wraps a website such as Microsoft's MSN or Wonderwall; and ads in video games distributed through Xbox Live.

'Fan It,' NBC's 'affinity program,' launched today.
'Fan It,' NBC's 'affinity program,' launched today.
TV networks have long relied steadfastly on their own airwaves to promote their programs. And they still do, filling most commercial breaks with at least one or two promos telling viewers about other programs slated to run hours or days later. With more consumers increasing their use of digital media, however, it's becoming clear that relying only on TV means missing out on potential audience.

"We live in a socially connected, digital world today, and awareness is built and fandom is inspired through digital social media," Mr. Stotsky said. "Increasingly, it is becoming a stronger and stronger driver" of how people become familiar with coming TV programs, he said.

NBC is also using its own digital properties to spur buzz for the fall. The network has also developed an "affinity program" that rewards fans with points for doing such things as watching a video of "The Office" or talking about new spy drama "Undercovers" on Twitter or promoting and talking about the 2010-2011 season lineup. Called "Fan It," the program, which launches Monday, makes use of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Foursquare.

NBC's efforts with Microsoft go live Monday, just as the network makes a broad entreaty to advertisers to buy its commercial inventory as part of the annual "upfront" marketplace. As it solicits marketers, however, NBC will be acting like one -- locking in ad time with a vendor of digital media.

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