Market Column



Who is more powerful, Jeannie from “I Dream of Jeannie” or Samantha from “Bewitched”?

Can anyone among us honestly say that in the stillness of night, when the monkey voice of day-to-day cares has been stilled, that he or she hasn’t whispered this question in the dark?

Well, maybe someone can. But then, that person probably hasn’t fallen under the spell of TV Land.

A few years ago, if anyone had suggested you could build a successful cable television network that airs nothing but moldy 25-year-old reruns, most TV executives would have laughed themselves purple. But nobody’s laughing at TV Land, except maybe the canned studio audience.

Perhaps better than any other new programmer on television, TV Land illustrates the power of marketing and promotion. Through an extensive advertising campaign, clever on-air promotions and contests (thousands of people called the network to settle the Jeannie vs. Samantha debate as part of a network promotion), and a well thought-out branding effort, network owner Viacom International Inc. has managed to build a viable audience for a cable network running programs that cost next to nothing.

“Why is that network perceived by the public as cool? It’s not because of the programming, it’s because of the promotions,” says James Chabin, president and chief executive of PROMAX International, a Century City trade association for marketing and promotions professionals in electronic media.

Chabin has headed PROMAX since 1992, but never before have the members of his organization wielded the kind of clout in the industry that they do today.

The TV and radio audience, as most people know by now, is fragmenting. On television, what was once a competition between three big networks and a few program syndicators is now a war between six broadcast and several dozen cable networks. Meanwhile, the Internet is also taking a bite out of the home entertainment audience.

That means getting attention is more difficult and more critical than it used to be. The result is that the marketing departments at TV stations and networks have become nearly as important as the content and distribution departments.

“Twenty years ago, the promotions director was in charge of client parties, or making sure the sweatshirts got out with the CBS eye on them,” Chabin says. “Now, they’re seen as critical.”

Compensation paid to TV marketing mavens is matching their newfound clout. Marketing department heads of television stations in the L.A. market have seen their salaries double in the past five years, according to a report from Century City executive search firm Brad Marks International.

The report doesn’t specify the salary numbers, but sources say top TV station marketers in L.A. have gone from an average salary of about $75,000 a year in 1992 to about $150,000 today.

Women and minorities have been major beneficiaries. Chabin says 52 percent of PROMAX members are women, a pretty unusual ratio for a professional trade organization, especially in the traditionally male-dominated TV business.

Most of these people were originally hired in low-level, low-paying marketing jobs, but now find themselves making as much money as their co-workers in content and distribution and taking part in key strategic decisions.

They also often find themselves running TV stations. The new importance of marketing means that marketing experts (often women) are increasingly being tapped as station general managers.

For example, Tribune Broadcasting Co. in January transferred the former head of on-air promotions for its WGN superstation in Chicago, Pam Pearson, to Los Angeles to become general manager of Tribune’s KTLA-TV Channel 5. And KNBC-TV Channel 4 hired Carole Lynn Black, a former marketing executive with Walt Disney Co., as general manager in 1994.

So what are these marketing whizzes doing for their big salaries? Mainly, they’re concentrating on building a brand identity for their stations or networks.

KCAL-TV Channel 9 in Hollywood, like nearly every TV station in Los Angeles, is setting aside considerably more time for on-air promos than a few years ago. Brand identity is enhanced through slogans (count how many times KCAL uses the phrase “Southern California’s most honored local news” in a given day to promote its daily news broadcasts) and by getting the station logo on screen whenever possible.

KCAL is careful to place its logo next to the logos of the sports teams whose games it broadcasts, so viewers will identify the station with the team.

“We’re very, very concerned about how we label our promos,” says Marshall Hites, the station’s vice president of advertising and marketing. “Both audibly and visually, we brand those teams.”

Better-known branding efforts include NBC’s successful “Must See TV” slogan, the catch-phrase for its Thursday night slate of programming. And most of the broadcast networks are now frequently running spots positioning the stars of popular shows with the network logo, to create a connection in the minds of viewers (as if to say, “You’re not just watching ‘Murphy Brown,’ you’re watching CBS”).

For those losing sleep over the issue, it seems pretty clear that Samantha is the more powerful. You don’t see anybody locking her in a bottle, or making her prance around the house dressed like a harem girl. And did she ever once call Darren, “Master”?

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