1 Trillion Reasons to Fine-Tune Advertising Sales Strategies

Networks targeting African-American viewers fight for slices of spending power

The proliferation of networks aimed at
luring African-American TV viewers has exploded
in the last few years, and advertisers
are buying in—literally. As this year’s upfront advertising
negotiations get under way, executives from
black-centric networks are reporting strong positive
responses from clients and agencies.

Advertisers know that African-Americans spend
some $1 trillion annually, and they are willing to
spread their dollars around to reach those consumers.
But the networks approached the market in different
ways leading up to the annual process.

Upstart networks Aspire and GMC TV (the latter
of which will soon be renamed UP) kicked off their
upfront presentations in March with the launch of the
traveling “Upfront Bus.” The bus tour began in New
York City, eventually visiting seven cities. The company
had hundreds of client meetings along the way,
according to Brad Siegel, vice chairman of GMC. (GMC
handles all of Aspire’s ad sales, but the companies are
marketed separately.) This is Aspire’s second upfront,
having secured seven charter advertisers. Aspire has
added other networks and expects its advertiser list to
grow substantially this year.

“We told our stories to new and old advertisers, and
the response was phenomenal,” Siegel says. “We’re beginning
to do deals, and we’ve had tremendous interest
from advertisers in new categories.”

Aspire, launched by basketball legend Earvin “Magic”
Johnson, has a slew of new and original shows on tap this
year. GMC’s upfront has been equally satisfactory so far,
Siegel notes. Although the network is more broad-based,
the channel has always done well with African-American
audiences, he notes. (On the bus tour, one side of the bus
was all about Aspire; the other focused on GMC.)

Looking to Be No. One

TV One shook things up a bit this year for its upfront
presentations. After two years of staging one large upfront
event in New York City, the network took a different approach
to better communicate its message
to advertisers, says Keith Bowen, chief revenue
officer. TV One took 100 ad executives
to Florida for two and a half days to
educate and immerse them into the net’s
programming and philosophy. The purpose
was to tell the execs what TV One
was planning and get some solid feedback
at the same time. The network also conducted
several one-on-one meetings with
agency execs around the country.

After the deep-dive confab, TV One sent
out surveys to participants to gauge their
reaction to the process. “We were pleasantly
surprised by the results,” Bowen
says. “We received A+ ratings across the
board. We asked about the travel, the
amenities, the presentation [and] got feedback
on our strategy and progress.

“You just don’t get the kind of feedback
you need and want with those big
events,” Bowen adds. “It’s too soon to
tell how the entire season will shape
up, since the upfront season still has a
couple of months ahead of it. But we
think we’ll do it again this way next
year. It was worth the time and investment and gave
us the opportunity to get to know each other better.”

This is Bounce’s first upfront season, but the executives
in charge of luring ad dollars are long-time veterans of
the industry who understand what advertisers want and
need. It also helps when the product is exceeding expectations,
says COO Jonathan Katz, who was with Turner
Broadcasting before joining the nascent Bounce.

Big Bounce Theory

The over-the-air network, which launched in September
2011, is currently in 24 of the top 25 African-
American markets in the country and is available
to 86% of African-American TV homes. Ratings are
exceeding expectations, Katz says, adding that the
response from advertisers to Bounce’s programming
lineup and business plan has been strong.

The network opted for individual meetings with clients
and agencies instead of a big, splashy upfront presentation
in New York City, says Dennis Ray, Bounce
executive president of ad sales. A longtime ad sales veteran
with stints at Fox and NBC, Ray has participated
in his fair share of upfronts over the years. By the time
it’s all said and done, Katz and Ray expect to rack up
about 30 one-on-one meetings by the first of June.

“This upfront has given us the opportunity to show
people the breadth of our distribution and solid ratings
trends, as well as give them a peek at our new original
programming,” Ray says. Bounce will introduce 12 new
original shows this season, translating into 100 hours
of content, Katz says. Advertisers want more flexibility
in how their products are presented, he adds, noting
that 30-second spots are beginning to lose their luster
in favor of more creative efforts such as product placement
and even show sponsorships. Bounce viewers will
see that when the network launches Forever Jones Presented
by Walmart
on June 5 at 9 p.m. ET. “Advertisers
increasingly want to own content,” Ray says.

BET, the granddaddy of African-American networks,
held three upfront presentations this year: lunches in
Los Angeles and Chicago and an evening presentation
at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. Musicians
Chaka Khan, Kierra Sheard and Miguel performed at
the respective events. The theme this year: “You Look
Better on BET.”

BET executives highlighted recently conducted
third-party research from NewMediaMetrics, advocating
that African-Americans are more emotionally
attached to the BET Networks brand than to any other
TV network. BET is also hyping four new original
shows slated to debut between now and first-quarter
2014. The NewMediaMetrics study measured more
than 360 brands and 400 media outlets including
TV networks, websites, print publications, sports and
tentpole properties, according to BET Networks representative
Shekina Liverpool.