Nets making Web 'connections'

Social networking sites used to preview, promote skeds

The fall television season's annual marketing blitz has spilled onto social networking Web sites in a big way.

This season, the broadcast networks are using contests, exclusive clips and advertising on such Internet brands as MySpace and Facebook.com to promote their primetime lineups.

"You can hardly launch a show these days without taking social interaction and viewers' interaction into account in your campaigns," said John Miller, chief marketing officer at NBC Universal Television Group. "It creates a connection with the viewer before the show debuts, making them more invested in the show than advertising alone could do."

The growing interest in tapping into social networking sites reflects their popularity online; two of every three people online visited a site in that category in June, online research firm Compete.com said.

Miller, who emphasized NBC's aggressive use of the Web this year, said that all of the network's new shows will have an online preview before airing in primetime.

"What we're trying to do is let fans get an early look at new shows and create as much sampling as possible," he said.

He cited new NBC drama series "Friday Night Lights" and its partnership with the teen-oriented social networking site Bebo for a contest in which high schools can compete to win $50,000 for their school. Miller said the contest serves to elicit school pride while hitting the network's target audience.

Other NBC promotions include video streams of upcoming fall series "Heroes," "30 Rock" and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" on YouTube, which mixes online community with viral video.

Last month, the title character from NBC's "My Name Is Earl" got his own MySpace page, which served to anchor a collection of sneak previews, merchandising, community activities and a promotional contest.

Last week, CBS announced its own marketing collaboration between new comedy series "The Class" and Classmates.com, in which anyone can join "the class" to learn about the show, interact with characters and win a trip to Hollywood to attend a taping and meet the cast.

"The 40 million registered members of Classmates.com is advertising our show in a way we could never do alone," CBS Marketing Group president George Schweitzer said.

He added that with so many viewing platform choices out there, the network is continually reaching out to its community of viewers in different ways.

"We have a lot of continuing strategies, and the key word is 'continuing,' " he said. "Our answer to everything is 'yes.' "

Fox Interactive Media and its News Corp. sibling, Fox Broadcasting Co., said last week that it was using its FIM network of sites, including MySpace.com, Fox.com and IGNtv.com, to stream the first seven minutes of the Season 18 premiere of "The Simpsons," providing fans a first look at the show before it premiered Sunday on Fox.

While Fox also is featuring a MySpace profile of the drama "Prison Break" sponsored by the Toyota Yaris among its other promotions, the CW network said last week that it also has formed a strategic relationship with MySpace and is establishing an interactive destination dubbed the CW "Free to Be" Community Hub.

Rick Haskins, executive vp marketing and brand strategy for the CW, said that an important element of its brand is establishing the new network as a community for its target audience of adults 18-34, and that the MySpace partnership is a natural fit.

"We look forward to providing MySpace members with a vibrant, interactive experience through our hit series and popular stars," Haskins said.
On what is essentially the network's own MySpace profile page, the hub includes a multichannel video player with series clips, interviews and behind-the-scenes and exclusive footage from different CW shows, along with CW series and star profiles and discussion forums.

Starting today, members also can participate in the MySpace Band Competition, where artists can submit original songs for a chance to appear on the CW's "Supernatural." On Sept. 20 -- the day the network officially launches the seventh-cycle premiere of "America's Next Top Model" -- CW will blanket MySpace's homepage with an expansive marketing campaign.

ABC also is using MySpace to promote its upcoming drama "Six Degrees" and comedy "Knights of Prosperity."

ABC Entertainment senior vp marketing Michael Benson said that because viewers connect so strongly with many of the characters from such shows as "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives," the network also has created many of their own community Web sites.

"Not that long ago it was just about a great on-air promotion campaign," Benson said. "But marketing for TV has become like a 3-D chess game."
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