Cable Programmers, Operators Target Viewers

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Lured by the prospect of promoting shows directly to millions of cable subscribers, big-name programmers such as HBO, the Disney Channel and Showtime are participating in a new marketing program offered by cable operator Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI), Englewood, CO.

"There's a real opportunity for cable programmers to act more like the distributors and retailers in other industries, where a merchandising program will showcase the value of the product that is carried on the store shelves -- or, in this case, the programming," said Doug Seserman, vice president of marketing for the TCI Co-op Connection, which provides exposure for top programmers through an array of direct-to-consumer vehicles.

When the TCI Co-op Connection debuted last month, HBO participated as a gold-level sponsor and opted for the greatest amount of exposure to showcase "From the Earth to the Moon." A full-page, four-color advertisement promoting the miniseries about the Apollo missions appeared in The TCI Connection, the cable operator's new newsletter distributed with its 10 million customers' monthly bills.

"Think about HBO, when it buys an ad in People magazine. That publication has a 3.3 million circulation, but about one-third of that circulation goes to noncable households. So HBO would just be wasting a lot of the buy," Seserman said. "This is a buy targeted to all cable households."

Multiple 30-second spots advertising the HBO project also appeared on channels affiliated with TCI. Finally, a recording pitched the program to customers holding for TCI's customer service, and a mention appeared on the envelope of TCI's monthly bills.

TCI's newsletter also includes a section called "Nice Surprises," which offers coupons from such companies as Circuit City and Domino's Pizza.

"The goal is to actually get our customers to look forward to their cable bills for the good stuff that is found inside," Seserman said.

He said research revealed that 23 percent of TCI customers read the newsletter last month vs. 4 percent who read People magazine.

Each month, the program allows for one gold sponsor, two silver sponsors and three bronze sponsors with rate-card options offering different levels of exposure.

"It allows us to provide targeted marketing opportunities to reach customers and increase program and brand awareness in a manner that never existed before," said Charlie Nooney, senior vice president of sales and affiliate marketing at Disney.

Last month, the Disney Channel participated as a silver-level sponsor for its children's program "Bear in the Big Blue House" and will be a gold-level sponsor to promote the American Teacher Awards in June. This month, Showtime is acting as a gold-level sponsor to promote "Thanks of a Grateful Nation," a program examining the Gulf War Syndrome.

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