Fox Network’s Low Ratings Highlighted Before Upfronts

 Fox Network’s Low Ratings Highlighted Before Upfronts

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Fox network (pictured: advert for Fox’s upcoming series Gotham).

This week, advertisers flock to New York City for upfronts—parties, meet-and-greets with celebrities, and previews from networks of new fall TV offerings. This is when advertisers decide which networks and shows will share nearly $16 billion in ad dollars. Among talk of the upfronts, one recurring theme emerges: how badly the Fox network needs a hit.

A series of hits, actually, to make up for once mighty shows that have dropped precipitously in ratings. Take American Idol, which during one season had 30 million viewers glued to Fox. Now it averages less than 7 million. Another former hit, Glee, is also viewer anemic. “Fox has the most to prove,” said David Campanelli, senior VP and director for national television at Horizon Media to the New York Times.

Toward that end, Fox started buzz with Gotham, their big gun, which tells the story of a young Bruce Wayne, pre-Batman cape, and a young(er) Jim Gordon, pre-commissioner title. The drama melds popular TV themes of cop show with teens (yes, there are young versions of Catwoman, Joker, et al), and a hit movie genre, comic book heroes. Gotham’s trailer does look like one of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. Will it save Fox? A few days, a few cocktails, and a few billion dollars will tell.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Fox, if the network can turn the conversation from their need to advertisers’ want.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Ostriches can’t just take their heads out of the sand; they have to do something. Fox could say things are tough all over—they certainly aren’t the only network feeling the sting of failing shows, viewers who fast forward through commercials while watching recorded programs, and other ad-dollar losses. But Fox is suffering more than most networks, and their PR job is to generate buzz about Gotham and other shows, and get it off their ratings plunge.

Netflix Raises Prices – and No One Freaks Out

NETFLIX TV 150x150 Netflix Raises Prices   and No One Freaks Out

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR PERFECT) for Netflix.

This time they warned you – Netflix, that is. The on-demand streaming video service that scored one of the worst marketing and PR flops since the introduction of New Coke when they raised their rates in 2011. They announced a price increase for rentals last week, but this time in a way structured to keep existing customers happy – and investors, too.

You might recall Qwikster, the company’s ill-conceived DVD-only service, spun off in 2011 in the wake of a controversial and unpopular price hike that effectively doubled the cost of rentals. Subscribers rebelled and quit in droves, and Netflix reversed course, killing the service before it ever launched. It then spent much of the next year apologizing and begging customers to come back.

Clearly the company learned something from that experience. This time, Netflix moved methodically, initially raising the prospect of price increases months ago. It firmed up that news in late April with a letter to shareholders announcing a pending increase of “one or two” dollars. The final word came in an email to customers Friday – a $1 bump, but only for new customers, and no increase for existing members for two years. So far, the villagers have yet to light their torches or storm the castle.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Netflix, for taking the time to set appropriate expectations.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Timing is everything – and that doesn’t always mean just picking the right moment. Netflix, looking to avoid another mass stampede of customers for the exits, wisely started telegraphing its intentions on pricing months before actually announcing the increase. This amounted to a period of test marketing, giving both Netflix subscribers and investors time to get used to the idea. Then, by grandfathering in existing customers at the current price for two years, Netflix actually won a measure of goodwill, solely becauset it set expectations of a price increase for everyone. Investors liked the news also, sending the company’s stock up on the increase.

Belize Tourist Board Breaks Bad

 Belize Tourist Board Breaks Bad

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the Belize Tourism Board and Olson ad agency.

Last week, millions of Americans sat enthralled by one of the final episodes of Breaking Bad, the award-winning TV series about a chemistry teacher-turned-drug kingpin. As the episode unfolded, a potential slam became a golden opportunity for the country of Belize.

In the episode, drug lord Walter White is discussing with his consigliere ways to deal with someone who knows too much about White’s line of work. The lawyer asks White if he’s considered sending the individual in question “on a trip to Belize,” referring to a similar, previous problem in which the person, who was murdered, was said to have moved to the Central American nation. White retorts, “I’ll send you to Belize!” The phrase swiftly became one of the top five memes on the Internet – and an unexpected boon for Belize.

The Belize Tourist Board was on it like sand on a tourist’s toes. Their advertising agency, Olson, quickly crafted an ad that offered a free trip to show’s cast and creator, using clever inside references that delighted the show’s many fans. As ADWEEK noted, the country “took the reference in stride and is out to prove that a visit to Belize isn’t, in fact, a one-way trip to oblivion.”

The cute gimmick generated more headlines than Belize has probably received at any one time in history. It also represented some canny thinking by a small country that competes for its tourism dollars with larger and more easily reached neighbors like Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Peru. Instead of being offended by the connotation, they turned the reference into tourism gold.

THE PR VERDICT:  “A” (PR Perfect) for the Belize Tourism Board and ad agency Olson, for taking a potentially unflattering catchphrase and turning it into a golden PR opportunity.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Seize unorthodox ways to call attention to your business, especially when raising marketing dollars is a challenge. Belize could have taken a conservative view and balked at promoting itself in this case; the phrase is, after all, a euphemism for murder. Instead, savvy marketing minds saw a unique and cost-effective opportunity to introduce their country to a demographic likely to appreciate what it has to offer. The result? They’re likely to make a killing.

Two and a Half Men Trouble Again

 Two and a Half Men Trouble Again

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the “no comment” response. (From left: Angus T. Jones, Ashton Kutcher, Jon Cryer.)

What’s the PR tactic to take when the star of a hit TV show bites the hand that feeds? PRs could only watch in horror at the no-holds-barred fighting that occurred when Charlie Sheen, star of CBS’s cash cow Two and a Half Men, slung criticisms and even religious slurs at the show’s creator, Chuck Lorre. Sheen was fired, Ashton Kutcher was hired, ratings soared, and advertisers and the networks slept soundly.

For a while. The next issue was a comparatively smaller bump in the road: Kutcher’s highly publicized split from wife Demi Moore after an affair. Of more concern was the ratings drop after Kutcher’s first top-rated appearance, but both problems ultimately smoothed out with little need for damage control.

Hopefully the show’s PRs were well-rested enough to deal with the latest flap. The “Half” man, ie the 19 year old teenager who is the third character in the show, Angus T. Jones, has taken a page from the Sheen hand-book. Jones, who has starred in the series for nine years, has appeared in a video posted by a Christian church, criticising the show as “filth.”  He added, “I’m not OK with what I’m learning, what the Bible says, and being on that television show . . . Please stop watching it.” The response from CBS and Warner Bros.? No comment.

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) from the network, the studio, and all involved with the show for sticking with “no comment.”

The PR Takeaway: The hand that feeds holds the power. There are a few PR tactics available when when a star goes violently off message. One is to plead insanity or addiction; that worked well with Sheen. The second is to quietly persuade the actor to recant, claiming that the video was a joke, or that the statements were taken out of context. The third is to wait for the news to move on – which it will more quickly when fuel is not added to the fire. The Sheen/Lorre battle escalated because both spoke too plainly to the media. This issue with Jones could die down fast if the only response is “no comment.” It’s a tactic Jones may also wish he’d followed when his contract is up for renewal this year.