After a long period of deep mistrust of the value of online advertising, television networks are increasingly turning to high-traffic Internet portals to promote their new programming.
"It's the core of our campaign," said Dave Howe, senior VP of marketing for the Sci Fi Channel. "Entertainment is the No. 1 form of content on the Internet. If you're in the industry, how could you not consider using this medium?"
Fox, USA Networks, Sci Fi Channel, The WB, Animal Planet and others regularly place ads on sites such as Yahoo, MSN and AOL.
The buying comes as movie studios are regularly integrating online ads into theatrical campaigns and the Internet is enjoying an overall surge in ad buys-up 11 percent to $1.69 billion in the first quarter of 2003, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
"We pretty much promote all of our shows on AOL and Yahoo," said Nancie Martin, senior VP of new media for The WB. "You want to reach your constituency wherever they are, and our audience was born with a mouse in its hand."
David Ernst, executive VP, director of futures and technologies, for Initiative Media, said Internet advertising is "a good opportunity" for networks. "Especially since very loyal TV viewers are apt to go out on the Web to seek information on the show," he said.
Fellow ad buyer Starcom has recently allocated an undisclosed amount of funds to test the medium's effectiveness in a new series of video-based online ads.
"A lot of advertisers that might have been scared off in the recent past are re-welcoming the Internet as part of their advertising budget," said Saneel Radia, manager of Starcom's IP division. "It's a much less cluttered environment than television. And we know for a fact the user is watching the ad and hasn't gotten up and walked away."
One successful promoter of online entertainment advertising is Jim Moloshok, senior VP of media, entertainment, information and finance at Yahoo and former senior VP of marketing for Warner Bros.
Under Mr. Moloshok's leadership, Yahoo has landed ads from 50 motion pictures this summer and has just announced a content-trading agreement with "Entertainment Tonight."
Mr. Moloshok hopes to have similar success courting television networks by emphasizing the Internet's use among business professionals. "We are like the television of the workplace," Mr. Moloshok said. "On the radio, you have an average of 24 minutes during a commute to reach a person. But we're with people eight hours while they're at work. If you have a show that's debuting tonight, they're going to know it's on."
Eric Hadley, director of ad sales and marketing for MSN, also stressed the medium's ability to reach workplace viewers. "[Network advertisers] are getting a great at-work audience throughout the day," Mr. Hadley said. "These are highly desirable upper-income professionals. They're on the computer all day; they're checking out stuff. This is an eight-to-10-hour advertising void while they're making their evening plans."
Another benefit of portal ads is their ability to target particular demographics and interests. MSN and Yahoo, in particular, can place ads that appear only on the screens of select users. Variables can include the user's ZIP code, age, sex and interests.
"We don't work on the same breaks as Nielsen," Mr. Moloshok said. "You can't buy men 18 to 24 who live in the South and like action hours on television. We can target those people."
"We can really start eliminating a lot of the waste," agreed Starcom's Mr. Radia.
It is not clear, however, whether networks have yet taken advantage of this technology. Even Mr. Howe, who boasts that Sci Fi was the first cabler to advertise on Yahoo's homepage, said his network practices a blanket approach to buying online ad space.
"If you can't afford a huge buy, then you can target by ZIP code. But we haven't done that at this juncture," Mr. Howe said. "We will in the future."
Indeed, talking to marketers, it seems as if each approaches Internet ad buying with slightly different priorities.
For Sci Fi, there's an emphasis on click-through ads to take Web surfers to the network's site. "Click-throughs are very valuable," Mr. Howe said.
At The WB, the main attraction is the Web's interactivity. "We like that they can volunteer to look at something," Ms. Martin said. "And then you can show them something that actually looks like what they're going to be watching."
For USA Networks, which is devoting an increasing percentage of its marketing budget to online ads, click-throughs and extras are not the main attraction. "The attitude a few years ago was everybody was worried about click-through rates.
Now we're using this as another way of branding our programming," said John Halpin, director of interactive marketing for USA.
"The idea is to sort of hit people when they're planning to watch something. If they click through, great, but that's not the goal."
All the marketers emphasized, however, that online ads are an addendum to traditional ad venues, not a replacement. "I think it's good to reach somebody at work, and then again on their way home in a different medium, which would reinforce the message," Mr. Ernst said.
"Online advertising is smart, but I don't think it's something I'd do at the exclusion of another medium, he said."
Posted on aef.com: September 2, 2003
James Hibberd, TelevisionWeek. August 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003 by Crain Communications. All rights reserved.