Showtime Looks Online to Promote TV

Viacom-owned Showtime Networks is turning to online to promote two of its cable TV series.

Showtime has teamed with Yahoo and Monster to promote the season premiere of “Fat Actress” and with women’s interest network iVillage to promote the second-season launch of “The L Word.”

The complete first episode of Showtime’s new half-hour comedy series, “Fat Actress,” will simultaneously stream on Yahoo and air on Showtime on March 7. The show itself is intended to have a broad appeal, and being exposed to such a broad audience on Yahoo’s home page provides Showtime with a large sampling opportunity, said Rob Hayes, Showtime’s SVP of new media.

“We wanted a vehicle that allowed subscribers and non-subscribers alike to get a taste of the show,” Hayes said.

Showtime hopes the Webcast will create demand for the show, leading non-subscribers to sign up for Showtime. Yahoo’s media player will include a Showtime-branded area, which will include a link directly to Showtime’s online order form. Hayes also expects the Webcast and promotional campaign to raise awareness for Showtime in general, prompting people to find out more about its new lineup of shows.

Yahoo will promote the series on its network two weeks prior to the Webcast, and Yahoo TV will host video clips, photos, and upcoming episode information throughout the show’s seven-week run. The Webcast will remain available for streaming on Yahoo TV until March 12.

This is the first time Yahoo has debuted an entire episode of a TV series, though it’s promoting “The Apprentice” with video clips and content built around a mini-site that Yahoo developed. America Online has streamed episodes for its subscribers in the past, often for corporate sibling Warner Brothers.

Most of Showtime’s ad budget for launching new shows is spent in print, broadcast, and radio ads. Online ads make up a small portion of the budget, but Hayes hopes that will change if this Webcast is successful.

A sweepstakes for “Fat Actress,” highlighting star Kirstie Alley’s struggle to find work as a “fat actress” in Hollywood, will run on Monster from February 10 through March 20. One grand prize winner will be awarded a walk-on role in a future episode of the show and a $10,000 signing bonus. The series and the sweepstakes will be promoted by Monster via banner ads, newsletters, and email and will be featured on the site’s home page for the duration of the promotion.

A second sweepstakes, in conjunction with iVillage, will run from February 1 through March 28, giving away an Apple iPod each day. iVillage will promote “The L Word” and the instant win game via banner ads across the iVillage network, newsletters, and email, reaching a targeted audience of women 18-54. Showtime will also promote the series on-air and online at its SHO.com Web site.

“It’s a crowded marketplace, and it’s become increasingly important for us to extend our reach via nontraditional outlets, and online relationships have become a critical component of our marketing strategy,” Len Fogge, Showtime Networks EVP of marketing and creative, said in a statement. “By linking up with such sites as iVillage.com and Monster, we are able to generate huge buzz for our series while targeting them to the people we believe will be most interested in watching them.”

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