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What is On-Air Promotion

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on May 11, 2011 at 3:00:53 pm

Thomas Frank states that brands “are special things to Americans, interactive myths that earn our loyalty through endless repetition and constant adjustment.”


Publication: Harper's Magazine

Publish date:  July 1, 1999

Author: Frank, Thomas



So what is on-air promotion?


On-air promotion can be many things, and vary from channel to channel.  At its heart, on-air promotion is the main tool for a network to both brand itself and promote its programming line up.  Promotions can take the form of graphical messages over programming, short channel identification pieces, and longer commercial-length spots driving viewers to programming priorities.  The purpose of promotion is to boost awareness for shows, create an intent to view, and increase channel viewership.


To foster their brand-image, networks use a combination of promos and design elements to create a unique feel and environment for their viewers.  Color palettes, font choices, animations, and audio elements can all be combined together to give a channel a unique voice and feel with its audience.


Strategy and execution can vary from show to show, however, most show promos fall into two categories: (1) show premiere/launches, and (2) promotion between episodes (otherwise known as episodic promotion).  A channel may also use its promotional inventory to support integrating marketing initiatives, public service announcements, cross-channel promotion (with sister channels/networks), and movie studio promotion (many times, networks share parent companies with, or own their own movie studios).



Who makes and schedules on-air promo spots?


Generally, although it is different from network to network, the On-Air Promotions department(s) consists of a Creative Services team and a Media Planning & Scheduling team, much the same way large ad agencies are organized.  The creative team usually consists of creative directors, several levels of producers, and production managers, who all come together to brainstorm, pitch, shoot, and deliver a channel's inventory of promotional spots and elements.  Working along side the creative team can be a design group responsible for creating the graphic treatments/templates used in promo spots.


After spots are made, they need to make their way to air.  This is where a team of media planners and schedulers comes into play.  Using demographic data, Nielsen ratings reports, and a variety of other statistics, media planners choose where and when to schedule promos on a given day's program log.  For large priorities, media plans are created far in advance of the promotional flight so that other departments (i.e. programming and research) can chime in and confirm its effectiveness.



Are all promos created equal?


Every network is different, but most tend to use different promotion strategies depending on the type of programming that they're dealing with.  Although there are many ways to promote a show, there are some general trends that one can notice from network to network.  The two man types of promos that networks use, that directly toss to a specific program, are PREMIERE/SEASON LAUNCH promos, and EPISODIC promos.


Premiere and launch promos are part of a well thought out campaign involving months of prep and planning.  As you guessed it, they promote to the premiere episode of a new show, or to the new season of a returning series.  These can apply to one-off specials and events too, not just series.  Media plans and campaign rollouts are created to capture the most viewers over a period of time, while not boring them with the same promo over and over again.  Launch campaigns can often involve a series of 10+ promos airing over a month and a half leading up to the launch of a show.  Often times, these promos will involve elaborate shoots of their own, rivaling that of the show.  A certain unique and theatrical feel often surrounds launch promos, creating excitement and capturing the viewers hearts and minds to get them ready for the premiere date.  Launch promos can be anywhere from 15-seconds to 90-seconds.  If the network has enough time on the clock, they'll be certain to include a few key plays of their longer promo spots to suck you in to the show.



Episodic promotion involves the week to week, episode to episode promos that keep you up to date on what's happening next.  These promos tend to give you just enough of a hint to whats happening on the next episode of the show, that you'll be sure to watch and still be surprised with what happens.  Episodic promo flights usually involve less inventory than premiere flights, and are often the first batch of promos to be cut when time is running low for the network.  30-second spots used to be more common place, but over the years, many networks have switched over to 15-second episodic promos in over to effectively double their inventory. 



What is a channel's "brand?"


A network's brand is many things.  Its the feel, the environment, the sound, the taste, the smell, the image of the channel.  For network heads, their channel just isn't a place to watch television, it's a lifestyle, and it is crafted, branded, and molded to meet the expectations of a demanding, yet loyal, core audience. 


A network creates a brand through many subtle tasks, ones that would often go unnoticed to the average viewer.  The font choice of the graphics, the tone of the voice over, the color of the channel bug, the music in the promos... all these things combine together to help create a channel brand and identity for the network.  If NBC removed the chimes, if HBO took out the static in the background to its production frame, if Nickelodeon didn't have orange somewhere on the screen.... if all of these things went missing for a day, viewers would notice.


The pacing, voice over, tone, and look of a channel's promos should be creative and unique, synonymous with the attitude of the network.  The next time you're watching television and see a promo, ask yourself, "would I know which network this was on if they removed their logo?"  The answer SHOULD be yes, by the pace, the sound, and the feel of the promo you should be able to immediately recognize which channel it is representing.  If you don't, ask yourself why?  What was missing from the promo that made it generic, boring, and unidentifiable.  These considerations are always at the top of a producer's list when working on a promo campaign.






One of the best ways to create a channel brand is through a special type of on-air promos known as an image spot, or an ID.  There's often no tune-in information for a show, and there isn't always a web address for you to go to.  What image spots do best is set the mood for the viewer, they get them excited about what the channel has to offer, how it makes them feel, and what it makes them think.  Image spots speak to the core of a channel and resonate within their most dedicated viewers.  In some sense, an image spot is a "thank you" to the loyal followers of the brand, but letting them know that the channel is dedicated to them.





Channel/promotional “style guides”



It's about time.


Time is an individual's most precious commodity so how do telelvision networks, in an increasingly crowded media environment,  persuade viewers to spend that time watching their programme or channel?


This report examines one of the most important tools at the disposal of television broadcasters - on-air promotion and design. We'll look at the goals and strategy, the art and the science used to drive viewing of both individual shows and networks as well as providing industry information and resources.


And next time you turn on the television ask yourself "If I couldn't see the logo would I know which channel I was watching?"



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