Affiliate relations for a cable network can drive both the network and the affiliate crazy. Keeping up-to-date on schedule changes and understanding what program offerings are best for an affiliate's advertising clients are hard enough, but that often involves via e-mail, fax or express-mail communications that can be complicated and unreliable.
When Turner Networks and Fox began looking for a better way to communicate with affiliates, they turned to the Internet—specifically, to The Content Project, a Los Angeles company that creates Web sites for cable networks. Business-to-business sites, says Managing Director Andrew Solmssen, offered a greater opportunity to drive revenues than consumer-related sites: "The affiliates make up 60% of a network's revenues."
The use of the Web sites means that cable affiliates of Turner Networks and Fox Networks can access up-to-date programming information, including in-depth and searchable schedule listings. They also have access to logos, print materials and even online shopping for network-related promotional items. More important, it makes affiliate relations efficient, particularly when it comes to distributing programming information.
"The nature of cable programming is pretty dynamic so, as soon as those kits go out, they would be out of date," says Solmssen. "Plus they were expensive to make and create, and then the network would have to fax, call or e-mail the affiliates to let them know of changes."
Each of the sites has a unique look, tailored specifically for Turner or Fox. They are accessed through a Web browser and password-protected, giving the network's administrator control over who has access to what parts of the site.
The Turner site was launched in January 2002; the Fox site was up and running this past January. The networks pay licensing fees for software as well as fees related to site design.
One thing the company didn't want to be responsible for was updating the sites. Relying on a third party complicates matters and increases the chance of delays and errors. "We don't want them to be dependent on us to update the schedule," says Solmssen.
For the affiliates, one of the strong attributes of the sites are the programming grids. "All the affiliates care about is what programs can help them make money in ad sales," Solmssen explains. "The programming tab allows them to generate a grid that can filter for certain programs or time periods."
Ad agencies also can access parts of the site. Here, too, it is up to the administrator to set the access levels.
Lauren Kay, The Content Group's vice president, marketing, says the networks are realizing that the competitive market requires new and innovative ways to maintain mind share of affiliates. That wasn't the case a few years ago.
"Four years ago, they were just learning about the Web as a new promotion tool, and that was great," she says. "But now it's about dynamic programming grids or a briefcase tool that allows the affiliate to download assets from all the networks in one swoop."