Stations Plug Syndication Newbies

Family Guy, TMZ and Two and a Half Men spur promotional wave
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Like Family Guy patriarch Peter Griffin going for a cold bottle of Pawtucket Patriot Ale, stations are reaching out to viewers with campaigns for their new syndication properties before the shows' premieres next month.

Besides Family Guy, high-profile programs such as Two and a Half Men and TMZ on TV are sparking a variety of unique promotions from station executives, from desktop “widgets” to whoopee cushions, to remind viewers of their new arrivals.

Twentieth's Family Guy is known for its subversive wit, and that edgy humor is evident in many of the 175-plus stations, representing broadcast groups such as Tribune, Fox and Sinclair, as they promote its syndication debut next month. LIN's WNAC Providence, which will double-run the show at 6:30 and 7:30 starting September 10, is claiming homefield advantage: Guy creator Seth MacFarlane went to college in Providence, and the show constantly makes references both obscure and obvious to Rhode Island's various cultural touchstones. President/General Manager Jay Howell recently hosted 100 clients at an IMAX theater to view clips of the off-network show, and is working on getting MacFarlane to make an appearance in the market.

“He has a huge Rhode Island following,” says Howell. “I'd love to get him in front of his fans.”

In New York, Tribune's CW affiliate, WPIX, is every bit as bullish on Family Guy. The station created a downloadable desktop application, known as a widget. The interactive device, slated to be available to users the week of September 3, sits in the corner of a computer, offering up video, episode summaries, and wisecracks from Peter, Stewie and the rest of the Griffin gang. WPIX is making the application available to the whole of the Tribune group.

WPIX Director of Marketing and Creative Services John Zeigler is overseeing a veritable arsenal of promotional forays for Guy, with a budget well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those include New York City bus ads, not only on the sides of buses, but the tops as well (where they can be viewed from multi-story buildings), tearaway posters and a Facebook buy targeting users that mention Family Guy in their profiles.

There's also the so-called Labor Day weekend “Beach Domination,” including airplane flyovers and Stewie football giveaways along the Jersey Shore.

Tribune, in the middle of a takeover that's dragging down its stock price, is nonetheless active in the syndication market—snagging not only Family Guy but randy sitcom Two and a Half Men, as well. Zeigler says the time is right to promote the heck out of the shows. “It's a huge year [for us],” he says. “Next year scares me [in terms of what shows become available], so this is the year to make some noise.”

Other innovative station promotions include WDCW Washington giving out Family Guy whoopee cushions at a Washington Nationals game and KTLA Los Angeles inviting viewers to submit video reenactments of them starring in their favorite Guy scene.

Twentieth, meanwhile, has been stoking the flames with a heavy on-air and print campaign featuring characters singing along to signature songs, such as Peter (shaking his prodigious booty to Kelis' “Milkshake”) and the Griffins' boozy dog Brian (grooving to Amy Winehouse's defiant tune “Rehab”).

Twentieth Senior VP of Marketing and Creative Matthew Rodriguez hopes Guy can have the same impact in syndication as another subversive animated hit about a dysfunctional family. “We're confident Family Guy can reach a level of franchise comparable to The Simpsons,” he says, “both in terms of popularity and longevity.”

Family Guy is hardly the only syndication rookie getting sufficient spotlight these days. In Kansas City, the Hearst-Argyle duopoly KMBC and KCWE is promoting the September 10 arrival of Warner Bros.' Two and a Half Men with a Ford dealership—offering a 2½ year car lease to the winner of a watch-and-win contest.

And as far as TMZ is concerned, Warner Bros. is helping out its new stations partners with the TMZ on TV Preview Special, a half-hour primer on the fledgling program that stations can air in advance of the premiere next month.

At the station level, marketing executives are tapping TMZ's dual cornerstones of user-generated content and celebrity worship to promote the debutant. LIN's Hartford duopoly, WTNH and WCTX, recently launched MyZone.tv, inviting viewers to submit video of themselves looking fabulous or acting scandalous. In Washington, the “Fox5 Party Patrol” is hitting streets and clubs on behalf of Fox O&O WTTG to hand out cards and encourage the public to visit and post footage on TMZonFox5.com. Fellow Fox O&Os in Tampa and Boston are sponsoring interactive celebrity lookalike contests, where viewers submit photos to be voted on by other viewers, winners snagging prizes such as iPhones.

Fox VP of Advertising and Promotions Leslie Lyndon says the fact that TMZ already has a strong web presence helps with the marketing mission. But there are still considerable steps to take to let viewers know the show will be on each day in their market. Adds Lyndon, “We're literally trying to build a community.”

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

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