I'm always on the lookout for a new idea, especially when it comes to making money. Many stations have faced dramatic declines in revenue in 2003, but an encouraging number of them have quit their whining and found new and creative ways to turn pain into profit in 2003.
Here's a sampler platter of some great ideas I've recently come across:
Clone, Rename, Sell (#1): The popularity of American Idol was not lost on the creators of Gimme The Mike!, a locally produced talent search that first aired in the spring. The second edition ran in Jacksonville, FL, Miami, and Houston during the summer of 2003.
In Jacksonville, more than 500 contestants auditioned in June to be one of 25 finalists on WJXT's show. BellSouth sponsored the South Florida edition on WPLG Miami/Fort Lauderdale, while a Saturn Ion Quad coupe was awarded in Houston to the winner of KPRC's series.
In each market, the station secured either new or incremental advertising dollars from a variety of sponsors, including Verizon Wireless, Ozarka Natural Spring Water, Beaches Boscobel Resort & Golf Club, and more.
Clone, Rename, Sell (#2): While they were on a roll with Gimme The Mike!, the sales department at KPRC in Houston had another tribute up their sleeves. 2 at Home with Gallery Furniture has generated incremental revenue from the sponsor as it combines the best elements of all those popular home makeover programs. Last month, local viewers were encouraged to make a one-minute video (or submit still photos) of a room that needed a makeover. After reviewing those visuals and a 50-word essay, the station and the sponsor selected 20 semifinalists. Those 20 people were required to be present at Gallery Furniture for the grand prize announcement; two lucky winners are now receiving room makeovers that, of course, will be featured in an upcoming special on KPRC.
Clone, Rename, Grow: PBS' Antiques Roadshow has spawned a number of imitators, including most recently a very humorous parody spot as part of Geico Insurance's TV ad campaign. On a local level, WSTM in Syracuse, NY, recruited certified antiques appraiser Tim Conroy of TWConroy to create a news feature called "Hidden Treasures."
Viewers are encouraged to contact the station to request an appraisal for their antiques, art, or other collectibles. In each segment, Tim and a WSTM production crew visit the viewer's home and give a free identification and evaluation of the item.
This is not one of those shady "cash-for-news-airtime" deals that are springing up in pseudo-newscasts during morning and afternoon time periods around the country. Instead, the station has created local content that airs in three different newscasts. While a paid advertising schedule for the appraiser was not part of the station's arrangement, WSTM has solidified their relationship with the appraiser and receives increased shares of the advertising budget for his local events and expos.
Multicasting With Cable Carriage: In Rockford, IL, ABC affiliate WTVO launched a new channel--Young Broadcasting's first multiplexed digital station. Rockford UPN 16 is transmitted as part of WTVO-DT's digital signal. It is also received in 60% of the market via a cable partnership with Insight Communications. "WTVO has developed new revenue opportunities without the help of a duopoly by creatively using a portion of its digital spectrum," said Vincent Young, chairman, Young Broadcasting. "This innovative approach allows the station to offer the community's viewers and advertisers two separate but complimentary broadcast viewing options, while taking advantage of the savings and efficiency of operating both out of one facility."
What are you doing with your digital bandwidth--launching a new channel, carrying a weather radar map--or...nothing? The NAB reports that 1,003 stations are now on the air with a digital signal in 201 markets that reach 99.17% of U.S. TV households. We're still a long way from seeing over-the-air digital receivers in every home, but it looks like Young Broadcasting has found a way to profit from the FCC's digital mandate.
I give them a lot of credit. As the broadcasting business matures, we are still faced with the problem of having only one real revenue source: advertising dollars. Sure, tower rental deals, production revenue, and the occasional home video release add a few bucks here and there...but there's nothing like a few thousand extra commercial avails to boost your bottom line. Extra inventory doesn't have to dilute the market and drive down CPPs; when you look at the new channel's young, urban program lineup, it looks like WTVO is looking to nab some dollars that traditionally have gone to radio.
It's easy to get stuck in a rut. I know that your email and voicemail "in" boxes are overflowing with people and priorities that require your immediate attention. It's the age-old conflict between urgent and important. But if creating new revenue is important to you, take the time to make some calls and see what's happening in markets outside your own. Who knows--your next idea, "borrowed" or new, may be the key to exceeding your budget next year.
Jeffrey Ulrich is a member of the sales team at WHEC, Rochester, NY. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the position of HBI, Inc. He can be reached through his website, www.hidefjeff.com, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.