Cross-channel promotion is nothing new in the still-strong cable and satellite TV distribution world. But channel-carriage promotion is another story. With growing numbers of new bandwidth-hungry HD channels, where is the endgame?
Comcast's recent takeover of NBC Universal has caused immediate changes as the company looks to boost carriage of its mid-size cable channels.
One newly acquired Comcast channel is Universal Sports, a modest 60 million subscriber sports network with a mix of carriage via cable, local digital TV stations, IPTV and other distributors. For the most part, Universal Sports positions itself as an Olympic sport channel -- featuring track & field, skiing, ice skating and gymnastics. Another key sport is professional cycling.
One of Comcast's pre-takeover channels is the 80-million subscriber Versus, mostly known for its NHL hockey games, mixed martial arts events, college football, and, for a long part of its heritage, cycling, including the granddaddy of all cycling events, the Tour de France.
So it probably doesn't come as much of a surprise that since Comcast's takeover, there has been heavy promotion to get Universal Sports better TV household distribution.
Part of this marketing plan seems to be promoting Universal Sports on the better-distributed Versus. Universal Sports' cycling events -- including the Giro d'Italia, the second largest grand tour after the Tour de France, and the Tour of the Basque Country -- were touted during Versus' recent airing of classic cycling events - the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
The message to cycling fans is clear: If you want more cycling coverage, just call your satellite or cable operator.
DirecTV carries Versus, but not Universal Sports. Last September, during a protracted contract carriage dispute with Comcast, DirecTV took Versus off the air for about a month, replacing it with NBC Universal's Universal Sports - which was airing another of the three-week grand tours of cycling, the Vuelta a Espana.
This type of on-air promotion isn't new. No doubt when ESPN or Discovery or others were in the throes of expanding their channel rosters, similar channel-carriage promotion activity arose.
But lately there has been a notable shift - as many established cable network groups slow their traditional cable network launches while pushing more Internet sites or mobile apps for TV content.
The massive Comcast takeover of NBC Universal has pushed the largest U.S. cable operator to find more traditional homes for its now larger channel, including some previously underserved NBC Universal networks. Other NBC micro-cable networks, Sleuth (soon to be called Cloo) and Chiller, will probably be getting the same marketing treatment, if they haven't done so already.
No doubt the days of gaining massive amounts of established cable or satellite consumers (IPTV operators have a different financial distribution position) are slowly ending.
But Comcast still has obvious leverage -- and intends to use it, especially to monetize its big controlling investment in NBC. It needs to find whatever few channel positions are left as they still represent the potential biggest pool of TV advertising and consumer revenue.