set cable TV viewership records over the Memorial Day weekend, drawing an
average of 13.8 million viewers-and 4.9 million in the 18-49 demo-to its three-day
telecast of the historical scripted drama, Hatfields
& McCoys. And that was only the latest step in the evolution of a network
that has left behind niche programming and established itself as a major broad-based
network. On many nights, History can now rival the broadcast networks.
Hatfields & McCoys, starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton,
and televised from May 29-May 31, became the No. 1 non-sports telecast in ad
supported cable history. But History's programming mix is like a who's who of
ratings successes, a collection of seemingly strange titles, off-beat topics and
winning fare, from Pawn Stars to Swamp People.
success, one might think history has had an easy time in turning from being
perceived as a dry chronicler of historical events, to a network with
can't-miss programming. But it's success has been aided by a dogged effort at educating
the public on what these shows are about. And History has a history of doing that
not just with on-air TV commercials but also with unique and eye-catching live
promotional events that, in many instances, reach potential viewers who normally
might not be watching.
To promote the
second season of Swamp People, the
network last spring placed sculptures of alligators emerging from sewer
manholes at various locations in New York City. It also sent a special food
truck-named Taste of the Bayou-with promotions and colorful pictures of swamp folks
on the outside, to Manhattan, serving up Louisiana cuisine including gator,
duck and smoked wild boar.
partnered with Professional Bull Riders Inc. to promote its competition series Full Metal Jousting by offering live
jousting exhibitions at six PBR events in 2011.
To promote its
reality racing show Top Gear, History
signed on to become the title sponsor of a Charlotte Motor Speedway spring
Nationwide Series race, having it renamed the Top Gear 300; on race day,
History programming was promoted constantly on the speedway's huge LED board.
History announced a promotion with Arctic Glacier packaged ice company,
which agreed to rename limited edition ice packages after the History series, Ice Road Truckers, as its new season
approached. More than 8 million bags of Artic Glacier ice, with the IRT logos and promotions, will be sold
at retailers around the country, including Walgreen, Walmart, Target, 7-Eleven
and Safeway. There will be point of sale advertising of the series at each
retail store selling the ice, and 18 co-branded delivery trucks in Los
Angeles and New York City will be delivering the ice for visibility. There
is also a consumer sweepstakes element.
And then, of
course, there was History's first in-game Super Bowl ad-buy this past February,
for the premiere of Swamp People.
The man behind
these live promotional events is Chris Meador, History's VP of consumer
marketing. Meador, who once worked in media planning at MediaVest and who also
had at stint at NBCUniversal before joining History, spent some time with
talking about these networks promotions.
Beyond the promotion you did for the
series, why do you think Hatfields
& McCoys was such a ratings success?
established a track record around Memorial Day each year when we televise a
major series, big event programming, and now viewers are aware of that and come
to expect it. Two years ago, we concluded America: The Story of Us on Memorial Day weekend and last year
we had Gettysburg. Those two series
were more documentary, but Hatfields
was a scripted movie. It had amazing stars in Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton and
we marketed it like a movie that would have premiered in theaters. For this
project we focused on quality production and big name actors and when we
promoted it, we wanted to let viewers know it wasn't a documentary. We actually
started working on promotions late last summer and kept promoting it since then
and everything just came together. We announced the Hatfields in May 2011, and right after that started talking with
media outlets about ways to uniquely promote in. There was also some luck. It
turned out to be a series the viewers seemed to be craving.
History has been very active in doing
live promotions tied into specific shows. What is the philosophy behind those?
It's always been
part of our marketing strategy to have both on- air and off-air promotions.
When we look at our programming we have to find ways how to broaden
its appeal to audiences and grow viewership. We have to make these promotions
cool so it draws the people who see them into the shows rather than turning
them off. We always try to be first with our ideas and to go farther with our
promotions than our competition. At History, there is a culture to do it bigger
and do it better than anyone else.
Do you believe that spending promotional
dollars on live events is a better way than advertising on other networks to
traditional media is more expensive and a bigger investment than if you want to
get the reach through live promotions. It's all about the idea for the
promotion and how it ties into the show. That's what gets the
attention. We create events to reach both a target of potential
viewers from that event, but also to then get media publicity across the
country for the event. We reach an audience on sites and then we reach another
audience when these promotions are covered by the media.
How engrained in History's culture are
these live promotions and how many do you do per year?
We do about 8-12
per year. We are always looking for new ways to do it that tie in with each
show. The Artic Glacier promotion [for Ice
Road Truckers] was a deeper partnership with a company because we are
promoting each of our brands together. They get the publicity of our brand to
sell their ice and we get to have our show promoted on 8 million bags of ice
and that gets us into new places and markets around the country. The Artic
Glacier promotion was actually one we resurrected. It was originally discussed
before the first season of Ice Road
Truckers but we didn't feel the timing was right for that type of
promotion. But when we were looking for ideas this season, we went back and
found it and thought it would work this time.
History clearly has more male viewers
than female viewers. Is the goal of all these promotions to reach out to men or
to bring in more women?
There is no
guarantee that these live promotions will bring you any new viewers.
There are so many networks out there that we constantly have to remind viewers
who we are and what we do. Our audience is almost 70% male, so we are going
after men, but we are trying to age down a little and get more younger men. The Hatfields was an exception in that
it brought in large numbers of women. It still skewed male but for the three nights,
the audience was about 55% male and 45% women, so about 15% more women were
drawn into the network for that series.
And the advertisers who took a chance
Hatfields were rewarded with the
surprising viewer numbers. Who were some of the advertisers that got to take
advantage of the ratings, which clearly had to be over-delivered?
advertisers in the series were Stella Artois, Procter & Gamble, Mazda,
Citibank, Expedia.com, DiGiorno, Papa John's, Red Bull and a couple of movies, Rock of Ages, Snow White and the Huntsman.
And what is the next big History special
We have greenlit
The Vikings with Gabriel Byrne for
How do you define History Channel
You can no
longer call us a niche network. We no longer only do documentaries. Today, we
can do any type of programming. Because the central theme of the
network, history, is very broad, it can be tied in to many different
genres in many ways. Today, I would describe much of our programming as slice
of life programming.
What are the challenges of promoting
shows that on the surface seem to be more bland concepts, like Pawn Stars, Ax Men, American
Pickers or Ice Road Truckers? They don't have sexy titles like Desperate
Housewives, Don't Trust the B----- in
Apartment 23 or Revenge to draw initial viewer interest.
is to educate the audience and show how interesting these slice of life
shows and story lines can be. You need to find the right hook for the show.
Each series has a core tenant and is played to something different. You have to
let viewers know what that is and give them a reason to watch it. In our case,
we find out how each series feeds into history and why it is unique. And we
project that to potential viewers. There is a historical element to Pawn Stars with the merchandise they
deal with, but it is also about the personalities of the family. Swamp People is about an
interesting historical culture of people in the country but it also has an
element of drama and danger in how they live.
How did the decision to run an ad in the
2012 Super Bowl come about, and in hindsight, was it money well spent?
We were ready to
make a statement as a network. It was as much about promoting Swamp People as it was about where we are
as a network. We wanted to let people know that we are a major network and a
top quality network. The Super Bowl is one of the biggest social events on
television. We wanted to expand our audience. We have seen a 20% increase in
our ratings year to year since the Super Bowl commercial, so we accomplished
what we wanted to do.
What are some of the other ways to reach
out to audiences? How important are things like Facebook and FourSquare when it
comes to bringing in viewers?
We have 10
million "likes" on Facebook and we're a top brand among teens on
FourSquare. Those sites aren't marketing tools for us, they are content tools.
We are using them to offer additional content, to continue the stories from our
series online. We don't just do tune-in messages on those sites. We offer users
experiences with our content.
You previously worked at MediaVest on the
agency side. How did that prepare you for the marketing promotion job at
My media planning
experience was one of the best things for me. I really learned how the consumer
thinks about media and how consumers function when not watching media and how
to more effectively reach them. There are so many networks out there that as a
network, you have to come up with the best plan to reach potential viewers.
What does the future hold for History
into the next generation of television where specific series are going to
matter less in the big picture than the brand identification of a network. It
won't just be about great programming but also about great brands. Cable
viewership is growing because networks are creating brand names for themselves
and we have done that at History. Today, I am not only a program marketer, but a brand marketer. I am selling programs to viewers but
also selling a brand.