"Our research shows that if you give people this opportunity, we would be hurting ourselves," says Mike Benson, senior vice president of marketing for ABC. "We'd rather have people sample the show on our air."
If ABC gives away its prime-time premieres free on the Web, it's more difficult to judge how network marketing performs. "You have to hope people come back to see the second and third shows," says Benson.
ABC digital-programming extensions are all about encore airings of its shows--for instance, its recently announced free, ad-supported airings through its own Web site, abc.com or those of its station affiliates. ABC also has an iTunes deal--the industry's first, where it charges $1.99 for each ad-free episode.
In conjunction with its fall marketing push, ABC also announced that it was offering free iTunes downloads of last season's final performances--as well as special highlight shows--"Desperate Housewives," "Lost," and "Grey's Anatomy." This year, ABC is putting a lot of its marketing efforts back on those three big programs.
"We believe there is still a lot of growth in these shows," says Benson--and he underscores the importance of continued strength for the new fall shows that follow them: "Six Degrees" follows "Grey's Anatomy." "The Nine" follows "Lost." And "Brothers and Sisters" follows "Desperate Housewives."
Not divulging any specific research data, Benson says all three new shows are tracking well, with good "awareness" and "intent to view" levels. Such factors are key to TV and theatrical marketing executives.
"It does appear that our messages are sticking," he says. However, he warns that care must be taken in analyzing this data, since the sample size of the cooperative five-network research study is small--only 1,100 people.
"There can be fluctuations," he says. "You keep your fingers crossed."