360°: The new way of life

Networks turn to multiple media to engage viewers

It was impossible not to notice the new Puma shoe. The set of "Fox Football Fone-In" on Fox Soccer Channel was draped in Puma banners touting the Puma v1.08 performance shoe. It was the central topic of conversation on the call-in show. Then came the commercial break: A cinema-style animated spot showing real-life soccer stars Gianluigi Buffon and Nicolas Anelka facing off in a futuristic stadium.

On FoxSoccer.com and across the Web, the commercial morphed into a viral hit, getting pick-up on YouTube and other video sites, and being reinforced with Puma banner ads.

The "Until Then" Puma campaign, which launched in February and runs through June, is just one example of the type of integrated 360° packages cable networks are offering and marketers are demanding.

"It's been a great launch for us," says Barney Waters, VP-marketing for Puma North America, adding that, given its relationship with Fox, it was even able to track the number and type of consumer calls to the Puma special on "Football Fone-In." The sponsorship "really exceeded our expectations."

While Fox Soccer Channel's National Sales Manager Mike Petruzzi says about 35 percent of its current deals, like Puma's, are reaching consumers on multiple screens, that number is constantly growing. For instance, Fox Soccer recently secured the rights to the Barclays Premier League, considered the top soccer league in the U.K., for Verizon Wireless. The deal includes Verizon on-air plugs, online branding via FoxSoccer.com and mobile highlights of the games sent to subscribers of Verizon's VCAST mobile content network.

"Everybody is looking for that engaged viewer," Mr. Petruzzi says. "We're constantly looking for ways to create more than a 30-second spot."

Cable networks with focused demographics and dedicated viewers—from BET and Hallmark Channel to NBC Universal's Sci Fi and Sundance Channel—are using multiple platforms to reinforce those viewer relationships while allowing advertisers to tune in as well.

Sci Fi, for instance, is headed into the upfront market with multiplatform buzz. It recently announced a deal with Virgin Comics to turn "The Stranded" comic book series into a TV show, with plans for a branded video game as well as books, movies and other digital and merchandising brand extensions.

'A NATURAL FIT'
"Virgin represents what we want to do in a futuristic way," says Shari Weisenberg, VP-strategic marketing at Sci Fi, a division of NBC Universal Television Group. "It allows advertisers to integrate on the ground level on the story arc, in the comic book world and in merchandising."

Sci Fi has a very active Web site and strong mobile effort, which suits the network's core viewers. "Our users are very tech-savvy— it's a natural fit with their lifestyle," Ms. Weisenberg says.

For premium networks such as the Sundance Channel, which eschew commercials, multiplatform deals are a way of life. "We can do anything with the brands on air except a 30-second spot," says Kirk Iwanowski, exec VP-marketing, branded entertainment and sponsorship at Sundance, a joint venture between NBC Universal, CBS Corp.'s Showtime Networks and Robert Redford. "It's about partnering with like-minded brands to create content."

Sundance spreads itself far beyond its on-air presence: It's got mobile deals with Verizon VCAST and Helio. It has a free on-demand service and streams from Sundance.com. It sells programs via iTunes.com, while its content is distributed through the in-flight channel on Virgin Atlantic Airways and on Universal HD, a high-definition cable network.

"Every deal we do with a brand is multiplatform," Mr. Iwanowski says. "We don't sell our individual screens. We package all screens together to aggregate our audience."

Another cable network that's tapping entertainment venues for branding muscle is Fuse, the young music network that was recently realigned under Cablevision Systems Corp., which also owns Madison Square Garden, the Chicago Theatre and other major concert venues.

"It's really a key strategic move for us because we can tap into the world's greatest venues," says Allan Infeld, senior VP-ad sales at Fuse. "Music is in our DNA and in every single programming piece that we do."

Its "Fuse Rocks the Garden" series, for instance, premiered in February with a sold-out performance of the Foo Fighters. The performance was filmed in high-definition and ran live on Fuse, as well as the Fuse.tv site, which showed exclusive backstage outtakes. It's going into the upfront actively shopping future Madison Square concerts.

Mobile applications are also alive and well at the Hallmark Channel, which, despite a decidedly different audience—targeting an audience of mostly female baby boomers—recently launched a deal with SMS game provider Limbo to provide a game and texting abilities for users to interact with the Hallmark original movie "The Good Witch," which aired in January.

Susanne McAvoy, VP-ad sales marketing, says it's looking for advertisers to buy into these branding opportunities. It's all part of a digital push for Hallmark, which last November relaunched Hallmark.com with highlights that included more original Web content, a Hallmark Channel Shop where advertisers can sell their merchandise directly and a community blog section. The network multiplies its marketing power when it taps sibling brands Hallmark Gold Crown Stores, Hallmark Magazine and Hallmark Cards.

For instance, when Nestlé's Coffee-Mate was a lead sponsor of the network's 2007 holiday multiplatform promotion, it got an on-air presence during each of the four original movies telecast between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. Print ads ran in Hallmark Magazine, which has a subscriber base of 700,000. Coffee-Mate was featured on Hallmark.com. And the brand was part of a sweepstakes that garnered nearly 16 million entries, thanks to in-store promotion materials from Hallmark Gold Crown Stores and a direct mail promotion sent to 15 million Gold Crown loyalty cardholders.

Deep product integration is also working for BET. One of its success stories is "Sunday Best," a gospel competition show. Last year BET created a specialized promotion for Procter & Gamble Co.'s Tide by tapping into its philanthropic "Loads of Hope" program, which sends a Clean Start truck to areas in need to provide free laundry service. BET gave Tide a way to continue the program by having various "Sunday Best" contestants represent communities. Online viewers could then vote for the "Loads of Hope" contestant representing the community they wanted the Clean Start truck to visit next.

"On the surface [Tide] wouldn't have seemed an appropriate partner," says Alvin Bowles, senior VP-integrated marketing at BET. But the network worked with P&G and its agency to create something "Sunday Best" could embrace as well as an experience Tide could own, Mr. Bowles says.

Multiplatform packages can even succeed on a much smaller scale, as with the Outdoor Channel, which targets fishermen, hunters and sports enthusiasts. Outdoor Channel.com features include online streaming content, broadband and featured bloggers.

And when it comes to assembling ad packages, Denise Conroy-Galley, senior VP-marketing and research at the Outdoor Channel, says it has the greatest flexibility with its original series. If an advertiser says, "I'm only into fishing," Outdoor Channel can brand the boat, the trophies and the entire fishing match with the advertiser's products and logo, and then telecast the entire event on air and online—something it has done in "Ultimate Match Fishing."

"One of the things we pride ourselves on is that we have an unduplicated audience," says Ms. Conroy-Galley. And now that audience will be seeing fewer and fewer one-off 30-second commercials.

"One hundred percent of what we pitch is on multiple platforms," she says. "That's what advertisers are demanding."