What would happen if you put Pam Anderson, Denise Richards and Snoop Dogg together to pose for a picture?
That's what E! will find out this week as it corrals those entertainment hotshots and others for a photo shoot for its summer marketing campaign. The network's message: At a time when celebrity fare is hotter than ever, for the first time E! has a burgeoning slate of original unscripted shows devoted to those stars, in addition to its workhorse news and clips shows.
“For the longest time E! has been about celebrity, and now we're a place for these celebrities to call home,” says Suzanne Kolb, executive VP of marketing and communications for E! and Style Networks. “We actually have a family of stars, and now we want to showcase them.”
E!'s message to advertisers this upfront season is “Want it? Get it.” Like all other networks, the Comcast-owned entertainment cable channel—along with siblings Style Network and G4—is using both TV and online to pitch media buyers on its ubiquity.
Celebrity news is omnipresent, and E! faces encroachment on its turf from a slew of other cablers that program entertainment fare. VH1, for one, has mined its “celebreality” genre for enormous ratings—an average of 869,000 viewers in prime during the first quarter, according to Nielsen.
Syndicated entertainment magazines are strong as well. Access Hollywood celebrated its 3,000th episode last month, and celeb-focused blogs such as PerezHilton.com show no signs of losing popularity. Hilton (a.k.a. Mario Lavandeira) last week announced plans for a radio show in addition to the TV specials and film work he's already branched into.
But E! is heading into the upfront strong. Its ratings were up 27% during prime in the fourth quarter over the same period last year, to 595,000 total viewers. And it posted its best-ever ratings with adults and women 18-34 and 18-49, and its youngest first quarter ever with a median age of 34.
Programs including The Girls Next Door, Snoop Dogg's Father Hood and Keeping Up With the Kardashians have delivered record highs and will be augmented this summer by Living Lohan, Denise Richards: It's Complicated and Pamela, the new Anderson show.
And as some of its competitors—like the Time Warner-owned TMZ franchise, and blogs like Hilton's and others—report with a decidedly snarky tone, E! continues to point out to advertisers that, with fact-based reporting, its channel and Website are environments as safe for their products as they are for the celebrities they feature.
“E! never stops growing in entertainment and all things pop culture and Hollywood, and we stay advertiser-friendly,” says Ted Harbert, President/CEO of Comcast Entertainment Group.
To that end, the network plans a Website relaunch of its own this summer to give it a more blog-like feel, says Kolb. The focus will still be on reported news, as opposed to gossip, but the format will be less cluttered and give advertisers more space to showcase their products.
E! and its Comcast siblings continue to pitch “podbusting” commercial options to keep viewers watching during breaks, such as running a ticker of celebrity news over spots and scrolling credits before the end of a show.
“Because this young adult audience has wanderlust and uses that remote like a semiautomatic weapon, we have been forced to come up with strategies that impact the viewer experience,” Harbert says.
The “Want it? Get it” line is meant to suggest to advertisers that they can reach whatever young demo they please and on whatever platform by buying Comcast's big three entertainment networks, says Dave Cassaro, president of Comcast Networks Advertising Sales: “We're saying to our advertisers that if there's a particular group you want—affluent young adults, cutting-edge males—you can get that.”