TeenScreen Report: In quest of teens

Teens. It's never been more challenging to reach this influential and elusive audience: not only are teen consumers becoming ever more sophisticated and skeptical, but now, more than ever, programmers must ensure that teen-targeted programs do not offend adult sensibilities....
October 1, 1997

Teens. It’s never been more challenging to reach this influential and elusive audience: not only are teen consumers becoming ever more sophisticated and skeptical, but now, more than ever, programmers must ensure that teen-targeted programs do not offend adult sensibilities.

In the ‘TeenScreen’ special report, we examine recent winners in teen programming and hear directly from those targeting today’s teensÑsharing their strategies for successfully connecting with the ‘arbiters of cool.’

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New Line Television and the Continental Basketball Association recently announced the signing of a long-term partnership aimed at rebuilding the CBA into a national brand through television programming, licensing and sponsorship initiatives.

For the CBA, the alliance gives the basketball league, which is the official developmental league of the National Basketball Association, a marketing partner who can help position the league as a fresh and exciting sports franchise.

And for New Line, the association means another opportunity to build a multifaceted franchise akin to such studio properties as The Mask and the upcoming Lost in Space. New Line will work on a wide variety of marketing opportunities with the CBA. There will be game-of-the-week television shows, documentaries, children’s series and other programs built around the league and its players.

Because of basketball’s particular popularity among teens, the partnership with the CBA also will further strengthen New Line’s links to the children’s market. KidScreen asked Chris Russo, New Line’s executive vice president for franchise programming and marketing, to explain the opportunities he saw in the CBA partnership and how he sees it being developed into a hot teen and young adult property.

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About a year ago, I read an article describing a global teen research study conducted by BrainWave for advertising agency DMB&B. Essentially, the study said that teens around the world love two things: basketball and television. While these results were not exactly astounding, I was surprised to learn that basketball had eclipsed soccer as the world’s most popular sport among teens. It is here that my quest for a basketball franchise began.

In my role at New Line Television, I’m charged with the responsibility of finding, developing and marketing new franchises for the division. We tend to focus on properties that are nontraditional, have strong appeal to teens and young adults and lend themselves to a wide range of media merchandising opportunities. New Line is the house that Freddie Krueger built, the producer of The Mask, Spawn and Lost in Space, and the studio that recently released Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

Given our unique sensibility, it was my challenge to find an appropriate basketball brand. In the end, the CBA (Continental Basketball Association) proved to be the perfect fit. I had heard about the CBA for many years. Located in mid-sized and small markets across the U.S., the league boasts the best basketball in the world outside the NBA. In fact, many players and coaches, like John Starks of the Knicks, Anthony Mason of the Hornets and Phil Jackson of the Bulls, honed their skills in the CBA, and ultimately became NBA stars. However, I had never seen a CBA game on television. With billiards, skateboarding, fishing and beach soccer enjoying national television exposure, the CBA’s lack of television was curious to me.

About six months ago, I contacted Steve Patterson, the commissioner of the CBA. I was excited to learn that the commissioner, recently hired by the league, was formulating a plan to redefine the CBA. He wanted to build the CBA into an important national brand and shared my desire to position the league as an edgy, differentiated property that would appeal to teens and young adults. We both felt that we could create an alternative brand of basketball that would be especially interesting to viewers and consumers who were independent-minded, ahead of the curve, and interested in products and entertainment that had not been overexposed. Many of these qualities describe large sectors of the teen audience.

One of the most exciting features of the CBA is that the league can provide unparalleled access to its games and players. The commissioner pointed out that TV cameras could be located in player huddles, on the benches, in locker rooms and on team buses. This would yield authentic stories and unprecedented insight into the game of basketball and the aspiring young athletes striving to succeed. At the venues themselves, kids and teens could meet with players after the game and actually get to know their role models.

Over the next few months, I worked with New Line TV president Bob Friedman and our programming and licensing team, Dave Imhoff, Pam Schechter and Erik Swart, to formulate a comprehensive proposal to the league. We devised a strategy to position the CBA as a distinctive basketball property that offered the unique access described above, entertainment elements and nontraditional programming. Not only did we want to create game-of-the-week programs, we also wanted to develop CBA-related kid/teen programming, dramatic series, movies of the week and documentaries. In essence, the CBA and its players could be great source material for a host of entertainment programs.

The only hitch was that the CBA already had a number of very qualified suitors. Our challenge was to demonstrate to the commissioner, the deputy commissioner, Gary Hunter, and the VP of CBA Properties, Carlette Patterson, that we could develop a sports brand into a comprehensive franchise. We wanted to partner with the CBA on its licensing, sponsorship and television businesses. We believed it was best to house all of its businesses under one roof. Its other potential partners played in some of these arenas, but not all three.

In the end, our track record with The Mask, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Lost in Space was enough to demonstrate the value of an integrated approach. Also, the notion of selecting a Hollywood studio, with its entertainment experience and vast resources, supported the CBA’s vision of developing a differentiated positioning. In early August, we signed a multiyear deal with the league. After a six-month courtship, now the real work (and fun) begins.

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