Current TV is launching a marketing blitz that is as non-traditional as the "viewer-submitted content" that makes up the network's programming.
The Al Gore-helmed channel began a viral marketing campaign this week, putting up a billboard in Times Square that drives people to a web site called Awaiting Input (www.awaitinginput.com). Over two months, the site will feature eight webisodes from cities around the country, telling a continuing story about “vic,” a robot named for the network’s "viewer content."
Current TV's and partner Sun Microsystems kicked off the marketing campaign on Thursday with a shindig in Central Park. The two-hour “Take Back TV” event featured 45 minutes of information about Current, plus a performance by R&B star Lauryn Hill. Attendees beamed text messages to a screen on stage and received information back on how to donate to the Boys and Girls Club in New Orleans.
“This is all about brand building now,” says Current CEO Joel Hyatt, the legal services mogul who launched the network in partnership with ex-Vice President Al Gore. “It’s about bringing thousands of young people to a venue to tell them everything about Current.”
Hyatt called the network’s marketing team members “inter-activists” for their guerrilla tactics. At the concert, Current staff members manned a lime green bus on which attendees can watch the network and take tutorials on how to upload contribute video content.
Another concert-slash-publicity-event, for which attendees must register on Currents web site, will be held in Philadelphia Oct. 20, in partnership with Sun and DirecTV (which carries the network). It will be webcast live by Sun.
After Gore and Hyatt acquired News World International, they laid plans to launch a 24-hour targeting 18-to-34 year-olds. Initially called INdTV, the network re-branded itself “Current” during the National Show on April 4.
Some 30% of Current’s content is short-form programming submitted by viewers, largely through its web site. That’s up from the 25% it initially ran and significantly more than 5% the network expected it would run from viewers when it launched. The rest is produced in-house and acquired. Current runs spots from advertisers in categories such as feature films, beauty and electronics.
Although Current relies heavily on the Internet to amass content from viewers, Gore says he thinks the day when the web could overtake cable and satellite TV as a means of watching television content is a long way off.
“For the foreseeable future, the relative impact of television over cable and satellite compared to television over the internet is still weighted tremendously in favor of cable and satellite,” he said. “When that tipping point comes we live right on that edge.”
(Speaking at another New York event on Thursday, Gore said that as long as cable and satellite television continue to be the dominant medium of communication in the country, "America's democracy is at grave risk.")
Currently in the 20 million homes it had amassed by its Aug. 1 launch, the network aims to be in 50 million homes in the next five years, said Gore at a press conference this morning. That’s a challenge now with cable operators ever strapped for bandwidth, although he called feedback from distributors “very encouraging.”
—John Eggerton contributed to this report.