While the broadcast networks come off their worst summer tune-in on record, the marketing executives charged with promoting the fall are facing some of the most grueling circumstances ever in which to launch a new season.
Television usage has always declined during the summer, but the recent flatlining means the networks have had historically little on-air promotion to work with. None of the nets managed to crack a 2 rating in the 18-49 demographic on average for the summer, and ABC thrice posted the lowest weekly demo rating ever recorded by the Big Four. At the same time, budgets for off-air marketing aren't exactly swelling, and of course there's the fragmenting audience.
This comes as the upfront marketplace saw a billion-dollar dropoff, so the networks are under pressure to make some noise ratings-wise to recover those lost ad dollars in the scatter market.
As a result, marketers are making tough choices about which shows to push—and how. They are once again employing efforts that eschew the scattershot approach popular during flush times in favor of hyper-targeted strategies that put priority shows in front of those most likely to tune in.
“It does force you to be as focused as possible in terms of target audience definition,” says Adam Stotsky, president of marketing for NBC Entertainment.
CBS will put a video ad inside the Sept. 18 issue of Entertainment Weekly in New York and Los Angeles. Asked if the network wasn't spending a lot of money to sing to the choir, George Schweitzer, president of CBS Marketing Group, says he picked this choir carefully.
“People who read Entertainment Weekly are highly engaged in media,” he says. “They talk about it. They write about it on Twitter and Facebook. That's a very influential audience for us to reach.”
ABC has seven new shows this fall. Mike Benson, executive VP of marketing for ABC Entertainment Group, says the network is putting its push behind comedy Modern Family and drama Flash Forward.
Fox is putting its muscle behind musical dramedy Glee and the fall iteration of So You Think You Can Dance, but is spending about the same on off-air promotion as in years past, according to Joe Earley, executive VP of marketing and communications at Fox Entertainment Group.
In keeping with The CW's risqué marketing strategies, its online ad for The Beautiful Life shows naked cast members with the tagline “What are you looking at?” covering their nether regions.
There's calculated method to the immodesty, says Rick Haskins, executive VP of marketing and brand strategy at The CW. “It's about understanding our audience,” he adds, “understanding what it takes to communicate our message to them, and then getting the creative execution correct.”