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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

One Place to Find Appointment Viewing

Back in the 80's, NBC had the lead in primetime TV viewing. Their Thursday night lineup was incredibly strong with Cosby, Cheers, and Hill Street Blues. People absolutely locked in to it. NBC referred to it as "the best night of television on television." Later on, Seinfeld entered the picture and the concept of "appointment television" really took hold.

I can remember vividly sitting in my office and hearing people say on the phone "call me after Seinfeld is over tonight." People had to see it live and wanted to be able to talk about it at the water cooler the next day. People changed their habits--it was truly appointment viewing in every sense.

Since that time programs have come and gone and fragmentation has taken hold along with stronger cable options and time shifting devices and TiVo. "Survivor" showed aspects of appointment viewing and the last episodes of "American Idol" certainly do as well. Many viewers never miss a first run telecast of a niche cable program. But the broad excitement is far less than it once was.

There is only one arena where appointment viewing still reigns--Sports. Yes, even there, the numbers have declined somewhat over the years. Other than the Super Bowl, every event does not produce the wallop it once did. And, as I mentioned in my second post way back in January, TiVo is starting to make inroads into a PORTION of the sports audience.

Sports has always been premium priced. You paid for the larger audience and the perceived identification with the local franchise or the event. Yet today, with a weak economy, sports can represent excellent value.

As the economy has spun downward in recent months, I have had a thought about sports advertising. Let's say that you live in the Detroit suburbs. Things are nearly as bad as they were in 1933. You work for a supplier to the auto companies, you fear for your job, have a fair sized mortgage on a house you could not sell if you lost your job and, finally, two kids in college. Yes, the Red Wings did not win the Stanley Cup but they probably were a rallying point for you and many of your neighbors. The playoffs were world class entertainment and provided an excitement and escapism not found in your dreary, fearful existence. The same could be said of LeBron James' heroics lifting people in Cleveland which is suffering as well.

So sports may be watched with more interest in today's malaise. It is hard to quantify and I certainly cannot prove it, but with prices soft and interest likely up in many markets, sports may be the place to be.

There are several venues: local affiliates with season long packages, your cable interconnect with many, many offerings and regional sports networks (RSN) that can cover more than one market and produce special features and promotions customized just for you (for a detailed discussion of RSN, see my 3/9/09 post). And, don't forget sports radio. Not just play by play for people in the car but talk shows as well. You need to get past the "long time listener, first time caller" dismissal that people make of the medium. Lots of men in their 20's are loyal and active listeners and this is an excellent place to reach them at today's pricing. Talk shows have an enthusiastic following, will work hard for local sponsors, and will show up at your retail location in many instances.

A market by market issue to keep in mind that some areas are enthused about college sports (the southeast stands out) while others gravitate to pro teams. So make sure that you study the local turf before placing sports dollars.

When the economy snaps back (yes, some day it will) sports will distance itself from other broadcast properties once again. Take advantage of this window of opportunity and take a look at sports. It merits your serious consideration over the next 18 months.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmial.com

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