Nighttime the right time, say media, ad execs

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BUDAPEST -- Late-night television schedules offer rich revenue opportunities if properly exploited, a panel of leading international media and advertising experts said Thursday at the DISCOP TV content market.

The DISCOP campus conference, "The Power of Late-Night Programming," suggested that scheduling executives could raise new revenue streams by more creative and focused use of the time slot.

Julia Stiletto, a sales executive with French media monitoring firm Mediametrie Eurodata, said that research shows there is "no clear programming strategy across Europe" for the late-night slot.

The volume of genres offered -- such as movies, entertainment, sports, news and chat shows -- does not always correlate with the viewing figures for the different categories.

Better use of measured data could help television companies make better and more profitable use of the time slot.

Screening movies -- largely Hollywood product -- late at night is a popular programming choice in the region. Poland devoted 44% of its schedules to this genre, Hungary 30% and Germany 30%, she said.

But less use was made of entertainment programming, a genre that research shows could pull in viewers, particularly if the subject matter is controversial or "audacious," Schulte said.

In the U.K. -- where late-night movies account for only 18% of the schedules compared with 30% given over to entertainment -- factual series, lifestyle shows and documentaries offer more clearly matched viewing figures, she said.

"In the U.K., the channels seem to fulfill the scheduling of late-night rather well. From our point of view, it is pretty clear that you need a strong strategy," Schulte said.

Though the research shows there is "no simple solution," using the time slot to screen "tricky" and challenging topics not suited to daytime viewing is a strong crowd puller. Examples cited included the U.K. Channel 5 series "Medicine's Strangest Cases," which details procedures such as caring for a woman who lost a third of her skin as a result of burns received during the Bali bombings, and Channel Four's "Sex in the Eighties," which focused on the antics of English brothel keeper Cynthia Payne and films she shot of orgies dubbed "Madam Cyn's Home Movies"

Max Smetannikov, general manager of U.S. firm Global Advertising Strategies, said that niche television, including the more than 200 ethnic minorities and foreign-language channels that air on U.S. cable and satellite networks, could offer advertisers and content providers late-night opportunities.

However, he cautioned that given the spread of time zones in the U.S., what was suitable for late-night viewing on the East Coast might not be proper for those tuning in three time zones earlier on the West Coast.

The U.S.' $182 billion advertising market is still overwhelmingly a television one, but growth in advertising on the Internet (up 15% in 2005) and cinema (up 18% the same year), compared with a lower-than-expected rise of just 2.9% for television that year, is an indication of the importance of other platforms for delivering filmed and televised content.

The rising numbers of people from ethnic minorities -- which by 2010 will represent half of the U.S.' entire population -- offer rich niche advertising opportunities distinct from traditional pitches aimed at white, Anglo-Saxons, Smetannikov said.

Nabil Kazan, head of international relations at Dubai's 5 Star TV, and Guy Templer, commercial director of the U.K.'s Twoway TV, argued that the growth of satellite, cable and digital platforms and the trend toward niche programming offers rich dividends for those prepared to use interactive television to raise revenue.

Late-night slots are challenging in terms of small audience sizes, tiny programming budgets and lack of any clearly obvious viewer demographic, but encouraging audience participation and helping create small but loyal viewing communities could make the effort pay off.

"Schedules are all over the place. The audience is fragmented. There is no obvious demographic for late-night TV. So, turn the model on its head and create programming to create the loyal audience," Templer said.

Though the experience of making money from simple, low-cost audience call-in game shows that rely on "audience churn" has become discredited recently in the U.K., Templer predicts that within two years gambling shows will "move into the primetime of mainstream TV in the U.K."
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