Tex and the CityCountry networks battle for untapped markets 11/11/2005 07:00:00 PM Eastern
The Country Music Association awards are being held in New York City this week, marking the first time in its 39-year history that the show is in the Big Apple.
While that might indicate that country music has gone mainstream, the major country cable networks, Viacom’s Country Music Television (CMT) and Scripps’ Great American Country (GAC), face an uphill climb in winning over viewers outside Middle America and communicating their message to Madison Avenue.
“Trying to get a 25-year-old with no appreciation for country music interested in a buy isn’t easy,” says Brad Adgate, senior VP/director of research for Horizon Media. “There’s a loyal audience of country-music fans, but these networks aren’t popular across the country.”
Scripps bought GAC from Jones Media Network for $140 million last November and moved its headquarters from Denver to Nashville, Tenn., heart of the country-music industry. That has created the opportunity to entertain ad clients at such attractions as the Grand Ole Opry and helped GAC sign 30 new advertisers, including Napster.
GAC, which targets a 25-54 audience, has scored backers for two new sponsored vignettes during commercial breaks: “Great American Shortcuts” feature stories about bands, and “Great American Minutes” focus on Americana. Sony will sponsor a Great American Minute in which Sony artist Patty Loveless praises country fairs.
“These are about the American lifestyle, they’re endemic to country music, and they stand out,” says Susan Leigh, VP of ad sales at GAC.
Although both networks are all about country, they go about their business in very different ways.
CMT, one of Viacom’s MTV Networks, skews younger and markets to its 18-49 audience with a wink: A New York billboard features beer cans and the slogan “Nashville’s Coolest Brewed,” and a contest to promote acquired show Dukes of Hazzard earlier this year offered a $100,000 salary to the show’s biggest fan.
CMT staffers don’t think GAC’s good ol’ boy routine works with hipsters. “They’ve got their master’s degree in stars and bars,” says CMT VP of Creative and Marketing James Hitchcock. “Their [marketing] work is pretty predictable. We believe we’re the country network New Yorkers actually watch.”
GAC is the smaller network, in 39 million homes versus CMT’s 78 million. During third quarter 2005, GAC averaged 73,000 total viewers in prime to CMT’s 327,000. GAC’s projected net ad revenue for 2005 is $21.8 million, and CMT’s is $108.3 million, according to Kagan Research.
But GAC is growing. It has gained 11.4 million homes since October 2004 and bought the rights to Grand Ole Opry programming when CMT passed on them. (GAC renewed the deal last week.) GAC plays 1,100-1,300 more videos per month than CMT, says GAC President Ed Hardy. CMT creates more originals, such as a Nov. 11 special on the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, and bought the rights to the Miss America pageant.
Both networks capitalize on their corporate siblings. GAC sold Grand Ole Opry 80th-anniversary merchandise on Scripps’ Shop At Home network, while CMT sells beer-opener belt buckles and other merchandise in the MTV store.
Both networks are also poised for expansion. GAC will debut a new logo in December and plans a seven-figure marketing campaign for 2006. CMT plans a feature film, Angel From Montgomery, starring singer Toby Keith, as well as a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign.