The Multiplatform Buzz
Cable networks tout new media for content and advertising
By Anne Becker -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/2/2006 8:00:00 PM
If there’s one word that networks are hoping to drill into the heads of ad buyers at this season’s cable upfronts, it’s “multiplatform.”
Networks like Nick, Court TV and Lifetime unleashed a torrent of buzzwords to tout their use of digital platforms as new venues for content and new opportunities for advertising.
Some ad buyers see the tech talk as an effort by networks to reassure an advertising industry clamoring for greater accountability (a current mantra among advertisers) and threatening to shift dollars from TV to the Web. At last year’s upfronts, broadcast networks generated just 1% growth to $9 billion, while cable networks grew 3% to $6.8 billion. Online spending, however, grew 28% last year to $12.4 billion, according to Forrester Research.
“If this year is a repeat of last year’s market, they need to be selling something new to bring more money in the door,” says Magna Global Worldwide Chairman/CEO Bill Cella.
In its “Mix It Up” presentation, The Disney Channel boasted about its mix of platforms, which currently includes downloads on iTunes and deals with mobile and video-on-demand (VOD) providers. With plans to stream episodes on broadband, Disney will offer non-ad-supported content on ad-supported digital space.
Nickelodeon, whose content is available through VOD, wireless, broadband and iTunes, announced plans for podcasts and a “multimillion-dollar development slate for nonlinear productions” that includes developing TV series from the Web and videogames.
Court TV riffed on its “Seriously Entertaining” slogan, promising to be “seriously everywhere” by adding broadband to its current satellite radio, mobile and VOD presence.
Lifetime President/CEO Betty Cohen says the network will be “the top multiplatform media brand for women and the premiere destination for advertisers who want to engage 52% of the population.”
Lifetime just launched a broadband site, for Lifetime Movie Network, and plans to add new mobile deals but has yet to offer VOD content.
Spike TV promoted its broadband component, Spike 2, with a testosterone-infused clip reel that wove snippets of the network’s action-based programming with shots of digital devices.
MTV focused almost entirely on its digital venues in its presentation, noting that it offered 142 “touchpoints” from this season’s Real World, including ringtones and extra programming on the Overdrive broadband site.
MTV President Christina Norman called multiplatform positioning the engine that drives the network’s strategy.
“For us, multiplatform is more than the buzzword of the day,” Norman says. “It is the way this audience lives.”
Indeed, MTV’s young audience is the one most likely to use alternative sources like Overdrive, which clocked 13 million streams in 30 days for the online version of the Video Music Awards. But for networks without MTV’s proven digital record, how much of their commitment to a multiplatform universe is more than catchy jargon?
Several executives at their own upfronts acknowledged in off-the-record conversations that they did not know how much ad money would actually go to multiplatform content or whether their networks were touting their digital space simply because it’s in vogue.
Starcom New York senior VP Doug Seay doesn’t blame the networks for trying to assuage advertisers’ concerns. “It’s legitimate posturing, but it’s a little bit like pushing the options on a car,” he says. “They’ll say whatever it is that will help them sell the car.”
But Seay is skeptical about much of the networks’ digital bluster. “Everyone sees the classic model isn’t working, and everyone wants a new model to replace it,” he says. “It’s not that simple.”
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