Building critical mass through alliances that link studios, broadcasters, marketers, retailers and other promotional partners has become a fact of life in the children’s television industry. Every fall, new promotional campaigns saturate the marketplace, from fast-food restaurants to shopping malls, the Internet and the television itself. It is, as one leading studio promotions executive put it, like a carnival midway, with every campaign inviting children to sample new and returning shows in the fall TV lineup. The following report takes a look at the kinds of fall TV promotions that are launching this year.
With so many broadcast and cable players cooking up strategies to entice kids, it’s no surprise that new showsÑonce viewed with a wait-and-see attitude until the fall ratingsÑare now promoted as aggressively as returning shows. Network and cable branding moves to reshape logos, beef up kids programming blocks and insert interstitial umbrellas that subtly suggest ‘don’t touch that dial,’ as well as revamped Web sites, network kids magazines and radio programs, all add new heat to this fall’s debuts. Yet, even in this climate of innovation, premiering shows that ride the coattails of existing franchises are still the easiest sell to cautious tie-in partners and licensees. In addition, since many programs were designed to pass the FCC test, producers now have to prove to the marketing community that FCC shows are as cool as they are educational.
While broadcast networks have an advantage in terms of audience reach, kids cable channels have far more day parts during which to promote new kids fare. This year, the networks will also have to contend with a new requirement stating that if FCC-qualifying shows are pre-empted, on-air promos saying when the programs will run must be aired. That requirement has increased kids promos for some network Saturday morning lineups.
City Guys, TNBC’s debuting comedy set in New York City, is scheduled between two episodes of Saved By The Bell: The New Class, TNBC’s flagship series. According to John Miller, executive vice president of advertising, promotion and event programming and supervisor of Saturday morning programming at NBC, the network plans to bolster this newcomer by positioning it among hit shows. ‘A good deal of our attention goes towards reaching those teens on our own air trying to let people know [about the new show],’ says Miller. Promos for the block will include plugs for City Guys, with a few stand-alone spots promoting the show itself. Print advertising is another medium used heavily by TNBC. ‘Sixty percent of our audience are teen girls who eat up magazines like Teen Beat, Tiger Beat and Seventeen,’ says Miller.
Storming the gates of Nickelodeon’s audience share is top of mind for most programmers this fallÑyet Nick is taking an unflappable ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach. Nick’s only new program, The Journey of Allen Strange, from the creator of The Secret World of Alex Mack, debuts in November.
New shows are plentiful, however, in other kid-targeted blocks. Fox Kids Network premieres three new animated series: Gaumont’s Space Goofs (formerly Home to Rent), dubbed by the network as a cross between Ren & Stimpy and Third Rock From the Sun, Nelvana’s Ned’s Newt, and the Steve Purcell comic spin-off Sam & Max. A live-action version of Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation will also debut under a high-concept promotional umbrella.
‘We’re into all of our new shows with a campaign that we’re calling `Takeover,” says Jennifer Burns, Fox Kids Network’s vice president of marketing. The premise of the campaign, which began on July 12, is designed to appeal to kids’ rebellious streak. ‘Takeover’ promos feature Fox Kids characters interrupting programming to take over, explains vice president of sales and promotions Jennifer Luke. ‘They start out as a tease and evolve into longer segments, 40 to 45 seconds long, with entire storylines.’ Launching the new fall lineup is only one aim of the campaign. ‘The `Takeover’ umbrella concept works really well with brand identity,’ says Luke. Totally Fox Kids magazine will join the campaign in November as kids take over its editorial pages.
Network branding is also central to Disney Channel’s fall launches. ‘We relate individual programs back to the brand, [and] what they are saying about Disney,’ says Eleo Hensleigh, senior vice president of marketing. A new Jim Henson production, Bear in the Big House, two new preschool cartoons, PB & J from Jumbo Pictures and Nelvana’s computer animated Rolie, Polie Olie, plus animal shows Going Wild With Jeff Corwin and Omba Mokomba, will debut this fall. The channel’s new logo will be customized for each of the new shows. Promos will air during the nightly Magical World of Disney movie block, and will incorporate Disney characters. At ‘Premieres in the Park,’ a fall promotion featuring outdoor screenings of Magical World of Disney movies in city parks throughout the U.S., trailers for new shows will be screened.
Creative outdoor events are also a forte of Cartoon Network, which premiered its new shows Cow and Chicken and Johnny Bravo late this summer. ‘Some non-traditional ways to promote new shows opened up because of our merger with Six Flags Theme Parks,’ says Craig McAnsh, senior vice president of marketing. Monitors in lines at the theme park will highlight new and returning shows. At theaters nationwide, Cartoon Network’s ‘MaTOONays’ promotion also helps boost launches. ‘Kids get in free to see, on the big screen, entire episodes of the new cartoons,’ notes McAnsh. Cartoon Network programming screens Saturday mornings for 20 minutes followed by a kids feature film.
The launch of Men in Black: the Series at Kids’ WB! is already a success in terms of licensing and tie-in support. The signing of an unnamed, at press time, fast-food company reinforces the notion that blockbuster spin-offs have an advantage. ‘From a marketing standpoint, we’re basing it all on the film,’ notes Julie Riddles, vice president of retail sales and promotions at Columbia TriStar Television, the producer and animator of the series. ‘The series has the same storylineÑgovernment agents watching over aliensÑbut will bring in a younger audience that will help us with licensed products.’ Peter Dang, executive vice president of worldwide licensing, merchandising and consumer products at Sony Signatures, agrees. ‘It certainly helps to have US$172 million in box-office sales over three weeks.’
Kids’ WB! executive vice presidents of marketing Bob Bibb and Lou Goldstein, the marketing team that masterminded the original launch of the Fox Kids Network, are now at Kids’ WB! launching its new fall lineup, which has expanded from nine to 19 hours. ‘With the extended family in prime time, we’re using the Kids’ WB! logo and Warner Bros. characters to help promote new shows and returning shows,’ says Goldstein. ‘We believe in the crossover appeal of these characters,’ notes Bibb. A second new cartoon offering, The Legend of Calamity Jane, is an unconventional girls animated action series. The duo took a programming approach to marketing the show, incorporating it into an action block with the double-billed series The New Batman/Superman Adventures.
ABC’s new Saturday morning block titled Disney’s One Saturday Morning, features a wrap-around, live-action umbrella that connects programs in the 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. time slot. New programs included in the wacky, interstitial-filled block include Brand Spanking New Doug, Recess and Pepper Ann. ‘We only get to connect with kids one day per week, versus the competition like Fox, with five days a week, and Nickelodeon, with much more,’ says Meredith Momoda, vice president of promotions at Buena Vista Television. ‘Disney’s One Saturday Morning is a way to put the strength of Disney brand behind us.’
Momoda sees the licensing and tie-in competition as fierce. ‘More people are seeing the value of doing promotional tie-ins with fast-food restaurants and packaged-goods companies.’ Nonetheless, 101 Dalmatians: The TV Series, which premieres September 1 in syndication and September 6 on ABC, has already signed deals with McDonald’s for a Happy Meal promotion, Nestlž for a tie-in with SweeTarts, and Toys `R’ Us, again signifying the advantage of a known commodity. In a unique fall contest promotion with Heinz Pet Foods, kids can win an animated cel of their dog. But even with audience recognition already in place, bringing on partners for the new show was a challenge, according to Momoda. ‘McDonald’s had already tied in to the movie, but wanted to know, was there any new news? We had to demonstrate that this was a really different, exciting show, not just a continuation of the movie.’
In syndication, Saban Entertainment is going the ‘known commodity’ route with The All New Captain Kangaroo, which will feature promotional links with the show’s shooting location, Busch Gardens, in Tampa, Florida. ‘Shows that have viewer recognition and a history of viewership come with built-in awareness,’ says Ellie Dekel, executive vice president of marketing and advertising at Saban Entertainment. Without detailing specific promotional plans, Dekel says that having a charismatic star who can attend events helps. ‘Let’s just say you’re going to see more of Captain Kangaroo in event-type tactics.’
DIC’s Mummies Alive!, debuting this fall in syndication, is buying time on other media to promote the show. ‘[This] is a real first for us,’ says Sally Bell, executive vice president of Claster Television. Spots on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network will proclaim ‘the mummies are coming.’
The relaunch of shows that existed in different formats is sometimes tricky, according to Children’s Television Workshop’s (CTW) Allyson Felix, vice president of marketing and communications. CTW’s The New Ghostwriter Mysteries aired two years ago on PBS, and is slated to debut in a new form on CBS. ‘[Since] we don’t have our own distribution, we have to push the show to align ourselves with corporate sponsors, and set up corporate marketing partnerships.’
CTW is scheduling live appearances of the shows’ stars this fall in local bookstores, libraries and malls. ‘We try to really create events. We hope to do as many radio tie-ins as possible, preferably with hard rock stations.’ CTW also is a leader in employing its kid-oriented Web site, with links to corporate promotional partners such as Nike and Sega, to expand the experience of the show.