KCTV Rewarded by Loyalty Program

Station giving viewers points, and prizes, for tuning in
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Viewers of KCTV Kansas City not only get the day's weather and The Mentalist sleuth Patrick Jane's latest escapade from the CBS affiliate—some even walk away with movie tickets, a prepaid MasterCard or a Wii game console.

KCTV's viewer loyalty program, called “KC Rewards” and counting more than 27,000 members, recently had its first birthday, and KCTV/KSMO General Manager Kirk Black says it's been a hit in terms of both advertisers and viewers.

“These people are loyal,” he says of its members. “They tell me, 'I didn't used to watch your station, but now I have to.'”

Members gather points by watching television and patronizing participating businesses. Code words are aired during certain times of the day, and viewers input the code into their account at KCRewards.com. Points can be cashed in for everything from tickets to a screening of the film Revolutionary Road (300 points) to dinner at Houlihan's (10,400 points) to a $50 gift card from Home Depot (11,000 points).

Viewers can also win visits to the station, whether it's to watch a newscast live or attend KCTV's Kansas City Chiefs-themed Locker Room Show, then break bread with the talent. “Things that are free for us, people find interesting and valuable,” Black says.

Such tune-in-and-win programs have long aired on the radio, with lucky listeners getting dinner for two or AC/DC tickets. But Black says the model is closer to an airline's frequent-flier program, with points representing an actual cash value.

With additional oversight of Meredith's stations in Las Vegas and Portland, Ore., Black helped set up Fox5 Rewards at KVVU Las Vegas in the fall (it signed up more than 15,000 members in six weeks) and is overseeing the launch of PDX Rewards at KPTV/KPDX Portland on March 1. He says the rest of the Meredith stations are studying the model to see if it would fly in their market.

Meredith's partner in the venture is GreenLink Networks, which was launched by the same folks who created Traffic.com. GreenLink's first loyalty program was KCTV's late in 2007, followed by ones at Media General's WFLA Tampa, the CBS-owned duopoly in Dallas and Post-Newsweek's KPRC Houston. VP of Affiliates Jonathan Agree says Fisher's KOMO Seattle will launch the program this month, and that GreenLink's seven station partners from 2008 will jump to 20-plus by the end of 2009.

Agree says the concept came from his discussions with station managers who were seeking new ways to tap local revenue. “Our core product is designed to open up stations to advertisers they haven't gotten before,” he says, mentioning the mom-and-pops and small-scale restaurant chains that typically spend on newspaper and Yellow Pages advertising. “We're taking a business model that's been successful in other industries and putting it to television.”

Agree says a merchant can join a station's rewards program for as little as $500, and see “measurable results” on its investment by the number of local residents who spend their points at the restaurant or shop. “We're confident that once they see the amount of activity we can drive,” he says, “they'll be clients for life.”

MORE POTENTIAL THAN ACTUAL

The rewards programs thus far appear to be more about potential revenue than revenue. Black says KC Rewards' cash contribution to the station is modest (“not much,” he says of its monthly revenue, and won't provide a figure).

But he's eager to see the kind of business it can generate when membership climbs over 50,000. He says it's a unique proposition for local vendors (its 160 member businesses include the steak restaurant Hereford House and the Mexican restaurant Manny's) that can not only entice viewers with their services on KCRewards.com but can also sponsor the code words that appear on-air, such as a “Joe's Pizza” code word around dinnertime. “It's an all-encompassing package for advertisers,” Black says. “And they only pay for the points when they're used.”

As to whether getting viewers to tune in to catch the latest code word gooses ratings, Black suspects it may bump the Nielsens a bit; KCTV did see ratings gains in mornings and evenings from November 2007 to this past November.

KPTV/KPDX VP/General Manager Patrick McCreery is eager to kick off PDX Rewards in March, and figures he can sign up 25,000 members inside of six months. “It's a new revenue stream for us,” he says, “and it gives people another reason to watch TV.”

E-mail comments to michael.malone@reedbusiness.com

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