NBCU Effort Aims To Keep 'Lights' On

Marketing campaign targets women 35-49 to help save series

NBC Universal is throwing a marketing Hail Mary to try to save its critically acclaimed but audience-starved drama Friday Night Lights.

NBCU plans an aggressive campaign, including building sampling through slashing the price of season-one DVDs and seeding word of mouth through a series of viewing parties for the season-two premiere.

Although critics love the high school football drama (it ranked second, after The Sopranos, in the recent B&C Critics Poll listing of TV's Best Show [7/9, p. 12]), its lack of big overall ratings has driven NBCU to focus on women 35-49.

“The show came with a lot of baggage because of the book and the movie [it was based on],” says NBC TV Group Chief Marketing Officer John Miller. “We tried to sell a high school approach and a football approach and even a combination. We can't totally divorce ourselves from those perceptions, but [women 35-49] were a far more reliable audience and right in the show's sweet spot.”

The network didn't have to sell that shift to producers; it was already happening organically.

“We're not trying to change the show,” says Executive Producer Jason Katims. ”It has been a challenge for women to know that they would like the show because of the football thing.”

The best chance at sampling this summer would have been on NBC's air itself, but re-airings weren't drawing, so the network pulled them. NBC may still stunt marathons on the network or a cable outlet later this summer. A few more Emmy nominations might have helped from a marketing standpoint, but the show garnered just two: one for directing in the pilot and another for casting.

The network will also launch a modest media campaign, with paid media expected to be about $2 million. By comparison, NBC is expected to spend about $8 million on launching Chuck and still more on top rookie priority Bionic Woman.

So, to drive sampling of Friday Night Lights, NBCU's TV side got together with its home-video unit for an aggressive strategy to search for new viewers via the DVD after-market.

And in an effort much like the tried-and-true network television strategy of using an established hit to prop up another show, NBCU will use Heroes to tout the DVD of Friday Night Lights.

NBCU is creating a special DVD of six episodes from the first season of Lights, which it will sell through DVD-sales giant Wal-Mart for just $10. More important, the DVD will be packaged in the same displays as the highly anticipated Heroes DVD, due in stores Aug. 28.

The other sampling strategy will be to flood the market with a DVD of the season, available at television-DVD retailers like Circuit City, Best Buy and Target. The price point, roughly $20, is about half that of a typical series DVD.

To build word of mouth, NBCU will, two weeks later, facilitate 1,000 viewing parties around the country for the second-season premiere through a company called houseparty.com.

The network also looked at using celebrity fans like Rosie O'Donnell, Will Smith and Larry David in marketing spots, but those plans never materialized. O'Donnell could end up as a guest star.

The show will continue with an Applebee's partnership that puts promotional posters in restaurants around the country, with Applebee's continuing to get integrations in the creative.

Also on tap is an Allstate partnership in which the stars will shoot safe-driving PSAs. And the show is close to new deals in the car and beverage categories. A soundtrack for the series is on the way.

The scheduling department is pitching in on defense to protect the show. Lights will air in the under-the-radar Friday at 9 time slot with a Deal or No Deal lead-in, and it won't premiere until Oct. 5, when many of the other high-profile debuts have come and gone.

But even in the low-profile Friday-night lineup, if the show can't compete and stay above about a 2.0 rating in the adults 18-49 demo, it will be time for Friday Night Lights to hit the showers.