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Key Promo Trends:


Animated Lower-thirds: 

     Recently, many networks have turned to on-screen graphics to create additional frequency within their promotional campaigns.  Traditional promos run the risk of not being seen by viewers who record a TV show on their DVRs and fast-forward through the commercial breaks.  Animated lower-thirds try to bust that pattern by getting traditional tune-in information to the viewer through non-traditional means.  The term "lower-third" has become a catch-all phrase for graphics running over the bottom portion of the TV screen.  This can include sub-titles over a show, locational graphics, or in our case here, graphics promoting another show in a network's portfolio.  Rather than using just a static pop-up graphic, networks have started animating these lower-thirds to catch the viewer's eye and capitalize on their interruptive powers.  Like a small child being distracted by a shiny object, viewers are drawn to animated lower-thirds as they tend to break up and interrupt the traditional viewing experience.  They can feature images from the show they are promoting, sound bytes, and even video clips.  Below is a collection of animated lower-thirds from the 2008 television season.


(video from Lee Hunt Best Practices)



"Theatrical" Premiere promotion:


     Rather than simply using footage from the pilot episode of a network priority, channels will often take a theatrical approach to the promo campaign.  Networks have begun using highly produced, cinema-quality shoots to create block-busting campaigns for their new shows.  Although using content from the show itself isn't a bad idea, these theatrical promos create an interest in the show on a grander scale than traditional footage can.  Special effects, stunts, explosions, and great sound make a theatrical promo what it is.  The same can be said for promos for yearly specials/events, new seasons of returning shows, and live shows or concerts.  Below are two examples of theatrical promos that MTV produced for its return to scripted television with the show "The Hard Times of RJ Berger," as well as, a promo for the 2009 MTV Movie Awards. These two spots were a part of larger campaigns involving high frequencies of several pieces of creative.  Months were spent on scripting, production, and post-production.




Teaser Promotion:


     Often weeks or months before a traditional promo campaign launches, networks will sometimes begin airing short teaser promos for big priority shows/events. Movie studios have done this for years, and use teasers to get people excited for their upcoming films before a full trailer campaign launches in theaters and on television.  These promos tend to cause quick spikes in the awareness of viewers for a new show, and will often drive them to the internet to find out more information.  Internet analytics will often show increases in search activity and page views after the successful launch of a tease campaign.  Below are two examples of teaser promos that the Discovery Channel and AMC used for the return of "Shark Week" and the launch of the hit series, "The Walking Dead" (respectively).




Episodic Promotion:


     After the launch of a show, the style and pace of the promo needs to change from building hype and excitement, to creating loyalty and intent to watch the next episode of the series.  Episodic promos have to let the viewer know what will happen in the next episode without it giving too much away.  Oftentimes, the episodic promo will give the viewer just enough info that they will have the feeling that they "must" watch the next episode in order to be satisfied.  Episodic promos are often in line with the "next-on" segment that airs at the end of a primetime series.  Below are three examples of episodic promos from three different networks.  Try to notice any difference in style and voice that the networks exhibit.





General/Generic support promotion:


     Smaller networks with daily blocks of programming, which often consist of syndicated acquisitions, will create more general campaigns of promotion with generic tune-in information with little-to-no specifics about the content of the next episode.  This allows the promos to run any day and don't need to be versioned-out in their end-pages (i.e. today at 9, tomorrow at 9, tuesday at 9).  The below example highlights several promos from local broadcast affiliates with daily blocks of animated shows and sitcoms.  There are also examples of local promos with sponsor integration.



Season Line-up Promotion ("Umbrella" campaigns):


     Sometimes, networks will launch a variety of new or returning shows during the summer, capitalizing on kids being out of school and families taking more time for vacations and relaxation.  Rather than creating unique promo campaigns for all the individual shows, networks will create season line-up promos, or "umbrella" spots, which highlight the variety of shows that will be airing soon.   It allows the channel to do a lot with as little amount of inventory being used as possible.  Below is a Summer Umbrella spot form the Discovery Channel.




IDs/Image Campaigns:


     Image campaigns and promo IDs help solidify the network's brand on air.  They set the mood and the tone for the channel.  Image promos can feature talent from shows, or other images/video footage, which was shot to foster desired emotions and feelings within the audience.  Below is a series of image promos from Syfy's rebranding campaign, and Discovery Channels "I Love the World" campaign.




Sound bytes/earcons:


     Channel's will often select a series of sound clips to air during or at the end of their promos to create a unique sound environment for the network.  In addition to visual continuity throughout their promo campaigns, networks are now creating an aural continuity as well.  The example below is a demo reel of "Sonic IDs" created for Comedy Central during their last rebrand campaign.  These sound bytes ran at the end of their promos and interstitial pieces.



Sports Promotion:


     Networks spend millions and sometimes billions of dollars on sports leagues rights fee's. Leagues such as the NFL, NBA, NASCAR and the MLB secure multi network deals collecting millions from each distributor. Leagues clutter the market and each network fends for themselves to create their own awareness. ESPN will create their promo's for the viewer to watch their NBA coverage while Turner sports airs their own campaigns to generate eyeballs on their NBA coverage. Events like the Olympics and the World cup will be sold to one network exclusively for multiple years at a hefty price tag. Having the event exclusively locked up for years helps create brand awareness and network voice to be associated with such high profile events but they will also need the help of on-air promotion because to get the adequate return on the investment they need the ratings. Below is an example of Turner's NBA season opener campaign. 



Scheduling Trends:


     Beyond production trends within the on-air promotion industry, there are also many scheduling trends.  Below is a few brief examples of scheduling strategies that many networks use today.


Vertical Promotion - Scheduling strategy which promotes a premiere show or event airing later that evening, also can be refereed to as "tonight" promotion.  While traditional promo spots will usually promote all of a channel's priorities throughout a broadcast week, network's will often make the vertical/horizontal distinction for their graphical scheduling strategies.


Horizontal Promotion - Leading up to the premiere of a show or event, networks will often schedule related programming or old episode of the show in question as a promotion vehicle for the new episode.  In these shows, promo teams can use graphics and promo spots to promote the upcoming event (either later that week or month) "horizontally" or across their schedule.  If inventory concerns are present, lower-third graphics will help offset the frequency of traditional promo spots.



Bookending or "Set-up & Pay-off" - In order to place extra emphasis on a campaign, or keep viewers during commercial breaks, networks will bookend the commercial pod with two promo elements.  There will often be a set-up in the first of the bookended promos, offering up a trivia question or setting up a contest.  At the end of the commercial pod, the pay-off promo will run, giving the answer to the trivia question or providing tune-in information for the show, or a web destination for additional information or contests.  


Social Media Integration - Facebook and Twitter have changed the promo game for good, and are forcing marketers to rethink their traditional campaign strategies allowing for more integration with these social sites.  Facebook and Twitter accounts allow for a constant stream of information regarding a new show or channel priority.  They allow for show talent to interact with fans and offer up additional or special information on the show, that the audience may not have known.  Rather than providing long web addresses to a shows website on the parent channel's homepage, integrating Twitter hash-tags and Facebook pages allows promo departments to get viewers to on-line destinations without having to leave their couch or turn off the channel.


Key Legal Issues:


KidVid Regulations:  


     As part of the Children’s Television Act (CTA), Congress imposed requirements related to children’s television programming.  In addition to requiring a cable and broadcast networks to air a certain amount of “educational” programming each week, Congress severely limited the amount of commercial content that can air during children’s programming.  The CTA mandated that no more than 10.5 minutes of commercial content per hour on weekends, and no more than 12 minutes per hour on weekdays, could air.  These were firm numbers, down to the second and even the frame.  10 minutes 30 seconds and 1 frame could land a network in hot water with the FCC and face penalties and fines of up to $8,000.  The government was not joking around when they passed the CTA.  In addition to regulations on commercial time, the FCC mandated that programming bust start and end on time acconding to the broadcast clock.  A 10:00 am show MUST start at 10:00 am and zero seconds or the station could face additional FCC fines/sanctions.  This is troublesome for a network who needs to monetize more of their inventory for ADUs or additional commercial content to meet their budget goals for a quarter.   The KidVid rules do not allow for extra content during certain hours of the day so networks must be extremely confident that their programming will deliver the ratings promised to advertisers.


What does this have to do with on-air promotion?


     Beyond limiting commercial time, networks are also forced to differentiate commercial content from programming content, so much that the beginning or end of a show segment could not be immediately adjacent to any commercial spot.  To get around this issue, networks turned to their on-air promos departments to create unique channel identification spots to separate the shows from advertisers.  These promo spots were unique, and unlike traditional promos, could not feature any form non-programming advertising.  Say What??  This means, that the channel IDs could not have any mention of a product or a website, even if it belonged to the station itself.  These promo bumpers couldn’t only contain tune-in information for programming on the channel.


          This allowed for promotions departments to get creative with their inventory.  Stations would use their bumpers to create a unique channel brand for their young viewers, with catchy tunes and memorable images.  Some of these early IDs were so memorable; I bet you even still remember some to this day.  How about the old Nickelodeon IDs from back in the 1990s, or the ABC Saturday morning cartoon bumpers, “After these messages, we’ll be riiiiiight back.”





     Some additional caveats within the KidVid rules made the lives of the media planning and scheduling departments extra fun.  Any cross-channel promotions that the network ran in their promo time would count towards the hourly commercial allotment.  The motivation behind this decision was that a cross-channel promo "advertised" another station, regardless if it was driving to a sister-network.  A traditional promo would not count towards the commercial time within an hour, so these regulations made it exceedingly difficult for a group of channels to cross-promote during children's programming hours.  


     If ANY product is excessively featured during a show segment, according to the KidVid rules, this segment would then be entirely counted as commercial time, and go towards the hourly 12 or 10.5 minute maximum.  A 3-4 minute segment that was deemed commercial content through KidVid regulations meant that a network lost out on at least 6 commercial spots during that hour, which is a considerable amount of money if this happens frequently enough.  


     These regulations didn't just stop at product placement though.  If a voice actor in a cartoon is also a voice over artist for a commercial in rotation on the channel, then the show segment(s) featuring that actor would also count as commercial content.  This forces media planners for a network to research the VO artists of their shows and commercials to determine if any conflicts will arise during a season.



Additional Trends:


Promo Cannibalism:


One unfortunate trend in the eyes of the promoter is the gradual reduction in promo inventory in favor of additional commercial time on a network.  Since the broadcast schedule is made up of finite segments, time cannot be invented - for promos or commercials, if you add one, you have to delete the other.  When network ratings begin to fall, advertisers want to make sure that they were delivered the audience they paid for when buying their commercial spots.  Rather than asking for a refund, advertisers expect additional commercial units to be played in order for them to get the number of eyeballs (or viewers) they originally requested.  These free commercial spots are called ADUs (Audience Deficiency Units), and they are the promo department's worst enemy.  


When finding room for the ADUs, network ad sales departments cannot give up commercial inventory that's already been planned and paid for, so they need to turn elsewhere for the time.  This is when the promo department is asked to give up a certain number of units per quarter so they can be monetized and used for ADUs and other additional commercial units.  Several thousand units per year, and several thousands of dollars per spot, equals several millions of additional inventory for the ad sales team.


Promo cannibalism is a bit of a double-edged sword, and is seen in two very different lights by promotion departments and their ad sales counterparts.  In the eyes of a promoter, the answer to a decrease in ratings is certainly not decreasing the amount of promotion on the channel.  In fact, the opposite should be the case, and additional promo inventory should be created to increase awareness on the channel.  Rather than using promo inventory for ADUs, ad sales departments should look to optimizing the use of their inventory, removing low-rate commercial units such as direct response (think infomercials) and local advertising.






Live From a Favorite TV Show: Items Branded With It: http://nyti.ms/haTGzk


     Broadcast networks continue to extend their brand with new merchandising products. These products are not only extensions of shows or personalities, but of the network itself. E! network recently launched products based on its popular series Live from the Red Carpet.  Capitalizing on their exclusive coverage of red carpet events, primarily from Award shows.


“The mother ship is the channel, but we’re also online, on mobile and in the social space,” she added, because “we want to complete the experience for our fans and keep delivering on it in any platform we can.”

–President of Marketing, Suzanne Kolb for E!. 


Merchandise branded around a network has become a trend and continues to be a successful marketing tactic.


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