Television has always been a competitive industry, with networks vying for the eyes of consumers worldwide. But with the explosion of digital entertainment platforms such as Netflix and Amazon, cutting through the increasingly cluttered environment is more challenging than ever.
Tricia Melton, SVP of entertainment marketing and branding for Time Warner’s TBS, TNT, and TCM channels, says traditional and emerging companies are competing for share of attention and mind, which is why it is vital to turn the challenge into an opportunity.
"In a world of so many options, regardless of whether you’re getting it from Netflix, Hulu, TNT, or HBO," she explains, "you need that filter of a strong brand that delivers a promise you’re going to get the type of quality programming you are looking for."
One way to ensure viewers are getting what they want is to listen and keep up with them on social media platforms, says Veena Raj, director of media relations for Burson-Marsteller’s consumer and brand marketing practice.
In February, Amazon posted 10 new original pilots online for its video streaming service and asked fans to vote on which one the retail giant should create next.
Digital channels may have an upper hand over traditional networks in terms of planning programming because they are more nimble and flexible, adds Raj.
"The networks have, for many years, been doing things a certain way because there’s so much that goes into it from the marketing and planning side – just having to know what your spring or fall lineup is two seasons beforehand," she says.
While TNT didn’t launch as extravagant a stunt as Amazon, the channel used consumer insights to create the marketing plan for the new series of Dallas, which is a continuation of the show that aired from 1978 to 1991.
"People wanted to embrace the mythology of the Ewings as a real family," says Melton, "so we have built our marketing strategy around that idea."
TNT brings the Ewings to life on social by having the show’s Facebook page written in the voice of the family.
Vikings take over Comic-Con
History’s Vikings conquered Comic-Con International in 2013 with 12.2 million media impressions and 75 media hits.
To bring Vikings to life for more than 150,000 attendees, History’s PR team collaborated closely with marketing on a number of activations, such as a themed interactive area where fans could participate in Viking-inspired boat races, a feast, and a photo booth. More than 15,000 people visited the Vikings experience, and more than 2,400 people competed in the races.
History also held a meet-and-greet with the cast for autographs and photos and a panel to discuss the show. The network offered fans at home the opportunity to follow along with and participate in the panel via a live tweet on @HistoryVikings.
The one-hour live tweet session reached more than 397,000 users and generated 739 retweets, 165 replies, and 250 mentions. Throughout Comic-Con, the hashtag #VikingsSDCC was used 4,377 times. History also saw a significant increase in social media fan growth from the event, including 7,681 new Facebook fans, 12,407 new Twitter followers, and 1,000 new Instagram followers.
Listening to consumers
Similarly, A&E Networks’ History and H2 channels don’t allow fans to pick the next topic for a show, but they understand they are male-oriented and viewers come to them for "engagement, entertainment, and information," says Lynn Gardner, SVP of publicity for History and H2. History strives to keep up with pop culture and remain relevant, adds Chris Epple, VP of consumer marketing for History and H2, and the network does so through focus groups, research, and social listening.
History’s Facebook page has more than 17 million likes and the channel leverages social platforms to engage consumers.
"It’s important to hear feedback from our fans," Epple says. "We have a team throughout the night to make sure we’re being mindful of what consumers are saying."
Robin Diedrich, consumer equity analyst at Edward Jones, says "good shows and content" are always the major factors in attracting fans, but networks also need to market to target demographics in unique ways and have clearly defined strategies.
"If you’re a content creator, digital is both a competitor and a way to get your content out there," she says. "It’s an interesting trend that has taken off in the last few years."
It’s most important to strike a balance between knowing your brand and consumers and trying new things, explains Irika Slavin, VP of communications, PR, and talent relations for Food Network and Cooking Channel.
"Be creative in where you strive to make that connection, but try not to get distracted in how you go about that," she explains.
Diedrich says having a "clear destination" and original programming helps the network market its own brand and benefits consumers. General channels that show a bit of everything can get lost in the clutter, she adds. According to Variety, the top-viewed cable networks at the end of 2013 were USA, History, TNT, TBS, and ESPN.
With more messages going out to consumers, brands need to cultivate a strong voice in social and engage fans through experiential efforts, according to Joe Quenqua, EVP and director of entertainment for DKC.
Experiential marketing is a big focus for History, and will continue to be a major part of the network’s engagement initiatives going forward because it keeps consumers interested between seasons, explains Epple. For this year’s Super Bowl, Vikings got involved with events such as the Playboy Party in New York, where the History show branded an ice bar.
Giving back to fans
Food Network Magazine, one of Food Network’s assets, keeps fans interested in its shows by inviting them to sample at events such as the New York and South Beach Wine & Food Festivals. As both festivals are nonprofit weekends, the brand’s connection with consumers is unique as it is "doing something good," says Slavin.
In February, TNT launched an initiative in anticipation of the third season of Dallas, where the show’s Ewing family took over a gas station in Manhattan for one day and branded it Ewing Energies. In making the event as real as possible, the network slashed gas prices for the day "to undercut the competition," the way the Ewings would on the show, explains Melton. The takeover included an ad in The New York Times, radio promotions, and a social sweepstakes, which offered fans the chance to win a Dallas black gold card with a $50 balance.
At the end of the day, History’s Epple says the landscape is going to continue changing, so the main goal is to stay relevant and offer value.
"Our shows, marketing, PR, and all of our efforts are around what the consumer or the trade wants," he explains. "We will offer it to them and stay relevant and that’s really more of a life lesson than anything else."