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Fast Track

7/06/2007 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Networking Tools A Must for Media

By Jon Hemingway

Bolder use of technology is deemed essential in competitive market

Savvy use of social-networking tools by media companies is no longer optional. It’s essential, according to a qualitative study conducted by TMNG Global, a consulting firm that specializes in the communications industry.

TMNG’s study, which surveyed 30 companies from various industries implementing Web 2.0 functions in some form, uncovered an awareness among participants that growing this part of their business is essential to differentiating themselves, remaining competitive and strengthening ties with their customers. While some see it as possibly transforming their business, others are more defensive about its elephant-in-the-room status.

“There’s a nagging sense that, 'if others are doing it, then we need to figure it out,’” says TMNG Chief Marketing Officer Janet Hall, referring to some participants’ concerns that being late to the party will put them at a disadvantage.

Many companies use these applications, both internally and externally, for a variety of functions, including knowledge management, internal IT functions and customer support. But indications are that companies are becoming necessarily bolder in integrating Web 2.0 technology, the next generation of Web applications that includes social networks, blogs and wikis (applications that allow multiple authors to add and edit content).

Among the challenges to cultivating communities, survey participants cited building critical mass and keeping content fresh to maintain their audience as some of the most daunting. They also noted effective harvesting of the knowledge an active community might yield.

One film-production and -distribution house finds viral marketing an effective way of building audiences for its titles ahead of launch. Termed “transient,” such communities are intended to get customers “invested” in the product. Building a dedicated base in one community opens cross-marketing opportunities and enables data collection for market research on future projects.

While most surveyed companies said that building brand identity and improving the customer’s experience were the most important goals of their communities, some noted that increasing interaction with younger users was critical.

“A lot of the new people that are getting in the business are more technical people,” stated a representative of one video-equipment–rental company, noting that younger people “are used to doing everything online.” (All surveyed companies remain anonymous.)

Whatever the motivation, TMNG views the cultivation of communities as a tremendously beneficial source of product information and feedback as well as a tool to build customer loyalty.

There are examples of how input from the Internet can impact decision-making at the top. Earlier in the year, fans of CBS’ post-apocalyptic drama Jericho mounted an on-line campaign to save the show from the scrap heap. The network, which outfits its show Websites with forums and wikis, listened and brought back the series, signaling that networks are increasingly open to considering the contributions from their on-line efforts.

“The campaign behind Jericho was truly amazing,” CBS President/CEO Leslie Moonves said last month at a breakfast sponsored by The Newhouse School and The New Yorker. “It’s a great experiment about how the Internet has influenced what we’re doing on the network.”

'Sunday Night Football’ Scores Big for NBC

NBC likes to say that Sundays are the new Mondays when it comes to primetime football, and advertisers seem to be buying that message.

The network is seeing ad-sales increases in the low double digits for its upcoming second season of the new Sunday Night Football franchise.

Some 30-second spots within the broadcasts are going for close to $500,000, up from about $400,000 last year.

A bullish Seth Winter, senior VP of sales, NBC Sports and Olympics, expects to sell about 75% of inventory in the upfront market but sees even better pricing in the scatter market.

“I’m very optimistic about what we’ve seen so far,” he says. “But I’m more inclined to hold some back because scatter will be so strong.”

NBC has inked a new deal with Home Depot for this season and has received increased commitments from returning advertisers EA Sports and Nike. Also on board are blue-chippers General Motors, Toyota, Sprint, Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Southwest Airlines.

Winter says he is seeing strength in the automobile, telecommunications and pharmaceutical categories.

NBC began cutting deals this year in March, after starting last year in late June and early July. Winter says the current blitz is both NBC’s doing and the marketplace.

He believes the increases are due at least in part to advertisers’ realizing that viewers will stick around, even after watching games all day Sunday.

“Last year, people took a wait-and-see attitude because there was concern there would be some fatigue after watching Fox and CBS all day,” he says. “It turned out Sunday night could exist as a very strong and viable franchise, so a lot of people took a 180 with this.”

NBC’s Sunday-night games averaged 17.5 million viewers in 2006, which the network likes to point out is 2.5 million more than ABC averaged in Monday Night Football’s last season. MNF moved to corporate cousin ESPN in ’06.

Winter also says that NBC’s flex-scheduling ability to select games later in the season was a significant draw for advertisers: “They understand we will never have an outright bad game.”

In general, fans once again flocked to football across the board in 2006. Fox’s coverage was up nearly 1 million viewers on the year, and CBS inched up 200,000 viewers on average.

ESPN’s first season of MNF was also a ratings success for the network, which averaged 12.3 million viewers in its first year of paying $1.1 billion per season for eight years of rights.

In addition to the games themselves, NBC is also getting solid responses to its shoulder programming, under the Football Night in America umbrella. This year, the studio show will be helmed for the first time by veteran Emmy Award-winning producer Michael Weisman.

—Ben Grossman

'Temptation’ Sold In Top 30 Markets

Twentieth Television and FremantleMedia North America have increased clearances for this fall’s new pop culture/home-shopping syndicated game show Temptation to 199 markets, including all the top 30, and 96% of the country.

Among the stations are the 10 MyNetworkTV affiliates owned by Fox, including WWOR New York, KCOP Los Angeles and WPWR Chicago; along with WTTA Tampa, Fla. (MNT), KCPQ Seattle (Fox), KMYQ Seattle (MNT), WOIO Cleveland (CBS), KTVD Denver (MNT), KPLR St Louis (The CW), XETV San Diego (Fox), WLFL Raleigh, N.C. (CW), KTVU San Francisco (Fox), WMYD Detroit (MNT) and WSVN Miami (Fox).

The game is based on FremantleMedia’s global game-show format Sale of the Century. It will be hosted by television personality Rossi Morreale.

—Jim Benson

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