With the opening today of PromaxBDA’s first Station Summit, both sides of the syndication coin will be looking for ways to improve the symbiotic relationship that builds viewers for stations and revenue for syndicators. And with the improving economy, the outlook is brighter than it has been in years.
It’s back to the future today as PromaxBDA convenes its first Station Summit at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. By targeting the promotion priorities of TV stations, Promax reclaims its original mission when, in 1956, the Broadcast Promotion Association launched as a collaborative of local and national media mavens.
The summit is designed to reverse the exodus of budget-starved station executives from the annual Promax meeting, which, ironically, has occurred at the same time local promotion has become more critical.
“The days of ‘consult your local listings’ are long gone,” says Susan Kantor, executive VP of marketing for Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. “Focusing on what our stations want and need is our mantra.”
That’s why Warner Bros. joined with five other syndicators and two broadcast networks to bankroll the travel expenses for station executives (up to $1,000 each) to attend the summit.
The other syndicators are CBS Television Distribution, Debmar-Mercury, NBC Universal Television Distribution, Sony Pictures Television and Twentieth Television. ABC and NBC are the broadcast networks.
Subsidizing attendees is money well-spent, according to NBC’s senior VP of affiliate marketing, Scot Chastain. “Sure, the networks have paid media options to advertise direct to consumers, but only the stations can give the audience reasons to care about a new show,” says Chastain, who credits stations for creating NBC’s most conspicuous primetime hit. “What makes The Voice important to Oklahoma City? It’s because the local stations got behind it with marketing editorial about Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green.”
Both NBC and NBCUniversal Television Distribution will take advantage of the summit to host private meetings with their respective affiliate and client stations. A major focus will be to preview promotion strategies for new and returning shows and to encourage creative participation.
“NBC is launching The Playboy Club, set in 1963 Chicago,” says Chastain, “Our O&O in Chicago and our Rockford, Ill., affiliate will be putting a nice creative spin on it. Our stations can add a creative layer that we could never do from the network side of things.”
ABC and Disney-ABC Domestic Television plan no formal meetings, but anticipate plenty of productive exchanges in between the general sessions. “Despite all the other changes in our business, our relationship with stations hasn’t changed that much at all. They’re more important than they’ve ever been,” says Sal Sardo, executive VP of marketing, whose department includes a fulltime staff devoted to station marketing teams. “While there may not have been as much opportunity for direct face-to-face time these past several years, there’s been as much communication as ever using email and phone.” [Editor’s note: The original posting of this story said that Disney-ABC Domestic Television, like the ABC network, was a sponsor of the summit. It was not.]
Sardo likens Disney-ABC’s involvement in the Summit to the classic United Air Lines commercial where a CEO hands out plane tickets to his sales team. “It’s a relationship business as well. And it’s easier to maintain those relationships when you’re actually in the same room together rather than 3,000 miles apart,” Sardo says.
While the CBS and the Fox networks plan no affiliate meetings at this year’s summit, both Twentieth Television and CBS Television Distribution are co-sponsors and among the syndicators planning presentations during today’s “Studio Day.” That’s a major focus for Warner Bros., which will use the occasion to unveil its marketing campaign for The Big Bang Theory and to introduce stations to Anderson Cooper — both the show and the man himself.
“Anderson understands the importance of local community so he’s going to tell his vision for his show in his own words,” says Susan Kantor, who plans to build upon Cooper’s journalistic credibility from CNN and 60 Minutes. “Our stations can introduce the daytime audience to Anderson’s lighter side, as he’s shown on Regis & Kelly and on his New Year’s Eve specials.”
Kantor fully expects Warner’s Summit meetings to be a two-way conversation as stations will want to know how Cooper will help them to promote his show locally. “Our syndicated lineup helps to brand local stations. They become known as the Ellen station and the TMZ station,” says Kantor, citing two successful WB shows with a strong track record for customizing station promotion.
“Every day after Ellen tapes, our team gets on the phone to alert local stations if there’s a guest or audience member of special interest to their market. Whenever possible (TMZ producer-host) Harvey Levin and (Extra host) Mario Lopez do live satellite talkbacks with local news anchors. We did more than 80 around the Arnold Schwarzenegger story.”
“Studio Day” will be followed tomorrow by a day of panel sessions and presentations focused on the business models and creative challenges facing stations in an age of increasing audience fragmentation. Among them is “Extreme Creative: Advanced Techniques for Writing, Creating and Producing Better Promotion,” presented by Linda Button, executive creative director of Tooth+Nail and herself a veteran station marketing executive. To prepare for their session, Button and her partner Marilyn Kass surveyed station promotion executives across the country.
“Local marketing executives are very interested in the social media landscape and how they can use those tools to create new promotion and sales opportunities,” Button says. “Stations are looking for fresh ways to protect and nourish their traditional relationship with viewers while extending it online and to other new media. They need to be a lot of different places.”
One place where stations are still not likely to be seen is at the main PromaxBDA conference scheduled for June 28-30 in New York City. But with registration for the Station Summit running far above projections, will the two conferences be merged in the years ahead? Maybe not, says NBC’s Scot Chastain, who’s also a PromaxBDA board member.
“The timing and focus of the Summit is designed to meet the special needs of stations,” Chastain says. “It’s right after the Memorial Day weekend and the fact that it’s a meeting of network and syndication reps makes it easier to explain to the GMs who control those tight T&E budgets.”
But whether the conferences merge or remain separate, Disney-ABC’s Sardo sees opportunities for expansion. “The improved health of the local ad market presents opportunities for more cooperative marketing campaigns. That’s a refreshing change from a period where things were very tight. Now with revenue rebounding, we’re seeing a lot more activity.”