MEDIA: TechTV seeks news that's big on personality - Cable network TechTV is the only 24-hour service geared to computer users. Aimee Grove discovers what makes it tick

If you're not already familiar with TechTV, you soon will be. The two-year-old cable network, recently bought by Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures, was previously known as ZDTV. It is on the air in more than 20 million US households and over 60 million worldwide.

If you're not already familiar with TechTV, you soon will be. The two-year-old cable network, recently bought by Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures, was previously known as ZDTV. It is on the air in more than 20 million US households and over 60 million worldwide.

If you're not already familiar with TechTV, you soon will be. The two-year-old cable network, recently bought by Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures, was previously known as ZDTV. It is on the air in more than 20 million US households and over 60 million worldwide.

TechTV has just signed deals with cable providers such as Time Warner Cable and AT&T to further expand distribution. Add to that the 750,000-plus unique visitors to the network Web site each month, and the reach of this media outlet begins to look more and more attractive.

What's more, TechTV - the first and still the only 24-hour TV station and Web site dedicated exclusively to computers and technology - recently announced plans to increase the scope of its original programming by more than 50%, with a slew of new shows ready to debut in 2001.

VP and editorial director Jim Louderback says: 'Nobody else is doing what we are doing - if you are looking for round-the-clock information and/or entertainment about computers and technology, we're the only game in town.'

And there's good news for those in PR in this market: Louderback and his producers, bookers and editors are eager to hear from you. 'We call it feeding the content monster; there's never enough to fill it up,' he says.

Louderback and crew are actively seeking nominations for awards to be presented on air on January 7 during the Consumer Electronics Association trade show in Las Vegas. Thirty products will be picked as finalists in 10 categories such as: mobile devices, digital imaging and home automation, and two winners will receive 'Best of Show' honors in the lifestyle and work categories.

Where entertainment counts

In addition to the daily half-hour live newscasts, which air Monday to Friday, the more popular programs on the network include: Silicon Spin, a nightly panel show in the style of Face-the-Nation in which guests from the hi-tech industry discuss issues of the day. Fresh Gear is a half-hour show reviewing new cool products and gadgets; Internet Tonight, a people and entertainment-oriented look at offerings on the Web; and Audiofile, a new show that focuses on trends and products on the emerging digital music scene. Also popular, though less open to placement opportunities, are the two call-in help shows, Call for Help and Screen Savers.

On the other hand, don't let Louderback's nonchalance or the abundance of programming fool you. Scoring airtime for your client still requires working with the opportunities and limitations of TV.

'We are first and foremost a consumer, entertainment medium,' says Louderback, who describes his audience as 'anyone interested in computers and the Internet and how technology is changing and making your life better.'

He continues: 'That means we are about people - and not just IT people.

For example, don't pitch us your boring CEO with a thick accent. Pitch us the wacky scientist who's bouncing off the walls, as he talks about his latest breakthrough.'

Outcast Communications account leader Laura Heisman has successfully landed guest spots for client Will Clemens, CEO of Respond.com, on TechTV's Silicon Spin roundtable. She echoes Louderback's comments.

'TechTV producers are surprisingly approachable. But you should emphasize that you have someone with a personality, and who has the background to talk about different topics from just your company or product, and who can interact well with the other guests,' she suggests.

Also, like any TV channel, TechTV is necessarily visual. 'We are all about words and pictures, especially pictures. For example, at tech trade show COMDEX we covered something we would have never done in my previous print jobs - an Internet camcorder shaped like a Koala bear,' says Louderback.

No matter how receptive producers and bookers might be to your client's wares, don't think he or she will get by without the usual scrutiny. In fact, Louderback, who was editorial director at PC Week and the editor-in-chief of Windows Sources magazine before joining TechTV in 1998, points out that products and guests are likely to be put through their paces before being given the go-ahead to be featured on a program.

Be pitch specific

'Companies commonly look at us as if we are shallow or not interested in all the technical details because this is TV; they think that they can message to us without answering all the questions,' says Louderback.

'But keep in mind we are tech experts. We may be TV, but we also know as much about our stuff as PC Magazine, and you need to be ready to answer to that.'

Rather than forcing PR pros to track down specific producers for each show, TechTV has simplified the process by setting up three central clearinghouses for specific types of pitches. All products, for example, should be routed to Grace Soriano Smith (see contact box), who then parcels them out to six people on different beats for evaluation. All potential guests must pass muster with chief booker Cathy Brooks, who then deals with producers for specific shows. Finally, news should go through recently hired assignment editor Greg Derego, who acts as chief gatekeeper for the daily newscasts.

Lead times vary according to the show, with news being the most fluid.

According to Derego, breaking news can be forwarded up to minutes before airtime every day. The taped half-hour shows, though, typically work about a month out - something to keep in mind if your client might have a seasonal angle or holiday tie-in. However, according to Louderback, producers will honor non-disclosure agreements if you want to time a segment to air concurrent with the product's 'official launch.'

'We would much rather be able to have the product in the studio and the show taped ahead of time so that we can show it on air the day it officially launches,' says Louderback, who also points out, 'TV loves beta hand-out video, too.'

With more topical shows like Silicon Spin, it also helps to peg your pitch to a daily event. 'They work very quickly,' says RLM Public Relations senior account executive Michael Pricinello, 'and if you know what's going on that day, and can find a client with something to say about it, and who has a personality, you'll have better luck.'

Pricinello also believes that it pays to take account of TechTV's key cable demographics: 'They will not tell you this, but their viewership really follows a regional curve following digital cable subscribers, which are located in a smiley face up the coasts and down through Atlanta. If you find something appealing to people in these areas, you have a better chance,' he says.

More than anything else, the key to working with TechTV, says Louderback, is in helping them to achieve the station's simple editorial mission.

'We give people who are interested in computers and the Internet helpful information and show them cool stuff. It's as simple as that.'



CONTACT LIST

TechTV

650 Townsend Street

San Francisco, CA 94103

Phone: (415) 355-4000 - switchboard

Fax: (415) 355-4392

Web: www.techtv.com

Email: editorial@techtv.com

Vice president, editorial director: Jim Louderback

Jimlouderback@techtvcorp.com

Product reviews manager: Grace Soriano Smith

(415) 355-4423

gracesmith@techtvcorp.com

Director of talent and guest booking: Cathy Brooks

(415) 355-4155

News assignment editor: Greg Derego

(415) 355-4404

gregderego@techtvcorp.com.



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