As TV moves from the cable model – bundles of linear networks delivered over cable infrastructure – to a streaming one – content delivered to consumers anytime, anywhere over the internet—so too must move TV marketing and promotion.

That was the message delivered Tuesday at Station Summit by brand strategist Lee Hunt, who also presented his annual “New Best Practices” at Promax’s June conference in Los Angeles earlier in the month.

While media ownership has been changing hands over the past few years, the end result is strikingly similar to how it has been in the past: essentially, eight large media conglomerates own the majority of those services.

Currently, 88% of the top-50 rated networks belong to eight media companies. Those companies are rolling out direct-to-consumer streaming services, but the ownership of those remains in the hands of a powerful few: Disney, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Apple, WarnerMedia, Comcast NBCUniversal and CBS (with possibly a re-merged Viacom should that long-rumored merger take place).

If you wonder why all of these companies are chasing streaming, it’s because consumers are. According to the MPAA, online video subscriptions surpassed cable subscriptions for the first time in 2018, while cable subscribers fell 2%. Americans now spend 52% of their media time on a digital platform.

“Naturally, that’s where the networks are going,” Hunt said.

While consumers seem to love subscription streaming services, the downside for marketers is that with the decline of advertising time, so goes promotional time.

“My concern is by limiting the amount of commercial time, many of the services I have looked at have been neglecting promo time,” Hunt said.

After looking at the broadcast networks and 20 or so of the top cable networks, Hunt found that the broadcast networks had cut promo time by four seconds an hour, while cable networks had cut it by 10 seconds per hour. Add it all up, and suddenly there are three hours less of promo time per year in primetime. That means networks cannot put the same marketing muscle behind the same number of programs.

“If you reduce the promo time, you cannot effectively support the same number of priorities. You need to reduce the number of priorities in order to reduce the number of promo GRPs (gross ratings points),” said Hunt. “It’s like buying an airline ticket halfway to Europe—you spend a lot of time and money but you never reach your destination.”

Another thing that is changing as the TV environment migrates to digital is the option of offering viewers both push and pull promos.

Push promos, Hunt described, are the typical promos everyone has seen a million times. It’s when a network or service plays a spot that introduces viewers to an upcoming new show or episode.

“Push promos are what is pushed during broadcast TV shows,” said Hunt. “If we’ve done our homework, we are giving you a message that is relevant to you. I came to your network to watch one of your shows. I did not come to your network to buy a Ford truck. That’s why promos are so sticky. They are the most effective, efficient marketing tool we have. In a sense, they are bait.”

Pull promos, on the other hand, require viewers to first interact with them: “A real pull promo is something I choose by rolling over a piece of art or clicking on a call to action,” said Hunt. “Pull promos are great for series or titles I’m already aware of but are not as effective for content I am unfamiliar with. If it doesn’t catch my attention, I am unlikely to click on it.”

For example, Hunt used BBC America’s Killing Eve: “Everyone has heard this is a great show. When I looked at the key art, I thought it was a dark version of an ABC Thursday night show and probably not of interest to me. In the digital world, I would never have pulled that promo.

“It wasn’t until I had a promo pushed to me that allowed me to try on or sample the experience that completely shifted my expectation,” he said. “Pull promos won’t work if you aren’t familiar with the content. A push promo creates surprise discovery and that’s our best opportunity to convert viewers.”

What remains important in this new and ever-changing digital world is that media brands continue to cultivate themselves. Having a strong brand that resonates with viewers can make the difference between viewers choosing to watch content on one brand versus another.

“That’s all a brand is—it’s a shortcut for a way for us to understand how we feel about a brand,” said Hunt.

For example, the show You, executive produced by Greg Berlanti and starring Penn Badgely and Elizabeth Lail, first aired on Lifetime. It didn’t do well on that network, so Lifetime let it go and Netflix picked it up. Netflix marketed the show just like it markets all of its original series and suddenly the little-known You was a phenomenon.

“When You premiered on Lifetime, its audience was small, just 600,000. When it aired on Netflix three months later, all of that changed. You shot up the ranks as one of the most-watched shows on IMDb and became a huge hit on the service.”

“The simple answer to why that happened could just be the platform – viewers can watch shows anytime, and binge them all at once,” said Hunt. “But I also think that we can attribute success to the Netflix brand. Netflix had marketed You as a Netflix original series. On Lifetime, people assumed You was similar to other Lifetime thrillers. I’m not making fun of Lifetime. They do a brilliant job of marketing their original movies and they like to have fun with them too. But how do we set – or reset – viewer expectations? How do we connect all of the programming on our channels? I believe you just have to step back and find common thread. That’s what Netflix has done.”

The point is that beyond promoting individual shows, marketers also need to focus on shaping their overall brands.

“Viewers should have an expectations of what they are going to find when they come to these channels. You can shape that expectation or they can shape it on their own, but they will have an expectation.”

“Media brands have to do four things: they have to be simple, obvious, intuitive and emotional. The last one is what a really good TV brand does – it finds more than the common thread, it finds a reason for us to care.”

To check out Hunt’s entire presentation, head to

[Images courtesy of Trevor Traynor/Memoryscape]

Tags: lee hunt station summit 2019

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