Dual ABC affiliates in Washington state used a sweeps promotion last February to blunt a rival’s Olympic advantage, pick up a little extra revenue and establish themselves as HD leaders.
It’s the broadcasting equivalent of a root canal: necessary, expensive and not much fun. That’s how most TV stations view February 2009 when every station must finally complete the conversion to digital-only broadcasting.
But one enterprising broadcast operation in Washington state has turned obligation into opportunity. In DMA 125, Morgan Murphy’s KAPP Yakima and its satellite KVEW in Pasco-Richland-Kennewick are using their mandatory digital migration to attract new audience and build sales.
Brian Lubanski is general sales manager for the dual ABC affiliates. Just prior to the network’s carriage of the 2005 Super Bowl, Lubanski was surprised to learn of a flood of viewer calls asking whether the game would be broadcast in high definition. Unfortunately, the answer was “not quite yet,” prompting passionate (not to mention colorful) replies from disappointed early adopters. The stations learned their lesson.
Recognizing (and hoping to exploit) the rising demand for HDTV, the stations accelerated their digital upgrades and Lubanski’s team came up with the High Def TV Giveaway for February 2006.
The promotional pathway was practically unpaved. Every opportunity came wrapped in a question. For example, while early purchasers of costly high-def TVs are presumably upscale, nobody could reliably say whether there were enough of them to warrant a targeted campaign. What’s more, conventional wisdom held that for every viewer intrigued by high definition, several more were confused or merely oblivious.
And more was riding on the promotion than hypothetical future viewers. With no Super Bowl on the stations in 2006, Lubanski knew it would be hard to match year-to-year revenues, especially since NBC was already hyping its Winter Olympics coverage.
KAPP/KVEW scheduled the giveaway throughout the February book. Live cue-to-call messages ran on the stations four times each weeknight—during Oprah, within the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. news, and again after 7 p.m. during Entertainment Tonight. In an ironic nod to the channel numbers they must forfeit in 2009, the 35th and 42nd callers won the first-round prize: a pre-paid gas card good at local service stations. The eight daily winners were automatically entered into that night’s grand-prize drawing. The winner took home a 27-inch Samsung high-definition TV.
As befits a lean-and-mean sales operation in the 125th DMA, all aspects of the contest were administered and executed by sales personnel. Production Manager John Wilkerson and his team produced watch-to-win promos which started running in January. To ensure that the contest ran as promoted, phones were answered personally by Director of Sales Lynne Nishimoto and her colleagues.
The stations obtained the prizes from the Incentive Plus Network, which specializes in barter deals for goods and services.
By the end of February sweeps, the two stations had awarded 200 gas cards and 25 high-def TVs. And the results? While they didn’t quite replace the revenue from the previous year’s Super Bowl, they more than held their own against the Winter Olympics. There was no ratings fall-off in local news. In fact, they built audience both at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. The campaign itself brought in new revenue from first-time client Archibalds.biz, an online broker for high-end used cars. And the station got younger, affluent viewers to sample their newscasts and to visit the stations’ Web sites where they found more information about HD programming. The campaign was so successful in linking the stations to digital service that consumers mentioned the giveaway when asking local retailers about high-definition sets. That suggests yet another source of new advertising for Lubanski’s team when they repeat the campaign in early 2007.
Meanwhile, KAPP and KVEW are reinforcing their position as the market’s digital leaders by acquiring and even co-producing some syndicated fare in high definition. They’re especially proud of Northwest Journeys, a domestic travel show locally produced in collaboration with Yakima-based PixelSoft Films.
This dovetails perfectly with their parent company’s broader digital vision. Morgan Murphy owner Liz Burns told TVNewsCheck that she expects to start broadcasting local news in high definition “probably within the next year to 18 months. We’re ready to go. The sets have been built to accommodate it and so it’s just a matter of putting aside the capital for the cameras.”
And Burns is determined to make viewers aware that broadcast high def is visually superior to the compressed version that comes via satellite or cable. “We need to keep our eye on the ball so that we don’t end up being a train in a world of transportation. Even though we are the legacy, we need to educate the country about the fact that they can get a superlative picture from broadcasting, that they don’t have to have digital cable or all this other stuff. They really can get it right over the air with an antenna.”
Market Share by Arthur Greenwald is a series on successful station promotions that appears every Monday. Next week, discover how Fox affiliate KRXI Reno, Nev., captured new viewers and advertisers by building a local promotion around American Idol. We’re on the lookout for other good ideas for increasing local audience and revenue. If you have one (or more) to share, please contact Arthur Greenwald at [email protected].