Challenge of Selling a Hit Film to TV Viewers : Television: NBC’s promotional dilemma is how to generate interest in the 2-year-old ‘Jurassic Park,’ which is the highest-grossing motion picture in history.
“Jurassic Park” airs Sunday night on NBC, in case you haven’t heard.
And NBC would be awfully disappointed if you haven’t heard. To usher in the television premiere of the highest-grossing motion picture in history, NBC began flooding its airwaves with promos more than a month ago. Two weeks ago, NBC aired “The Making of Jurassic Park” to whet viewers’ appetites.
Since last Monday, 80 radio stations across the country have been participating in an NBC-sponsored promotion in which they air “Dino-Fact” spots about the creatures featured in director Steven Spielberg’s epic. The sound bites were prerecorded by NBC stars from “ER,” “Friends,” “Frasier” and other shows. Listeners who correctly name the celebrities can win a free trip to Kauai, where “Jurassic Park” was filmed.
“We’re giving this a miniseries level of exposure and promotion,” said John Miller, executive vice president of advertising, promotion and event programming for NBC, which paid a reported $50 million for multiple runs of “Jurassic Park” and two airings of “Schindler’s List,” which has not yet been scheduled.
NBC’s biggest challenge has been to generate interest in “Jurassic Park,” a 2-year-old giant that has already saturated American pop culture. In addition to grossing $356 million in North American theaters, consumers have purchased 16 million copies of the home video, making it the fifth best-selling title to date.
“With this particular film, we didn’t want to leave anything to chance,” said Miller, whose network sold 30-second commercials during the movie for $650,000, a price tag that advertisers say trails only the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards so far this year. “We’re giving it full-blown media exposure. We even renamed the month it’s running: Dyno-May on NBC.”
The masses who have already been wowed by Spielberg’s computer-rendered dinosaurs don’t bother NBC. The network’s research indicates that two-thirds of the viewers who expressed interest in watching “Jurassic Park” on NBC have already seen it. But the network did pay a premium to scoop it up before it ran on any pay cable networks, which would have further diluted its potential broadcast audience.
John Agoglia, president of NBC Enterprises, has pursued hit theatrical films to help create a brand identity for his network. NBC purchased multiple runs of “Home Alone” and “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” and made them both annual holiday events. Agoglia also tied up exclusive broadcast rights for “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He and Don Ohlmeyer, president of NBC, West Coast, aggressively went after the rights for “Jurassic Park.”
“You still don’t find too many real events in network television,” said Betsy Frank, executive vice president of the New York advertising agency Zenith Media Services. “ ‘Jurassic Park’ is the kind of movie people want to watch again, even if they’ve seen it once or twice.”
And viewers will see virtually the same film they did in theaters and on home video. Spielberg, a huge proponent of filmmakers’ rights, stipulated in his NBC deal that “Jurassic Park” must not be chopped for network TV--except for the removal of an expletive. (It will be shown in TV’s traditional “square” picture format, however, rather than letterboxed.) Spielberg also personally selected the commercial breaks.
“Even if a film has sold 16 million cassettes, there’s still 80 million homes that don’t have a cassette, and many of the people in those homes probably haven’t seen it in the movie theater,” Miller said. “The exposure this will get on Sunday is probably greater than its total exposure at the box office. But it’s important not to take these things for granted. It’s not preordained you will get a rating. You have to work hard so you earn the ratings.”
According to advertisers, NBC has predicted that “Jurassic Park” will capture from 35% to 37% of the households watching television Sunday night.
“That’s not unrealistic in this day and age, particularly when you look and see that ‘ER’ did a 38 share last Thursday night,” said Bill Croasdale, president of national broadcast for Western International Media, a Los Angeles advertising agency. Impressed by the massive cross-promotion NBC is doing, he bought time in “Jurassic Park” for three of his corporate clients.
There was a time, before the proliferation of cable TV and VCRs, when even a ho-hum feature film could pull a mid-30s share on network TV. When Spielberg’s “Jaws” first aired on Nov. 2, 1979, it chomped a whopping 57% of the audience.
Pickings are much slimmer these days, because theatrical films must first pass through the pay-per-view, home-video and pay-cable markets before reaching network television.
“Enough time has passed since ‘Jurassic Park’ was pulled out of theaters that people will want to see it again,” predicted Nicole Alemanne, a vice president of the New York ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding. “It does help that it’s not running on cable. It’s much newer than movies that usually show up on broadcast TV these days.”
The trade magazine Inside Media reported that NBC stands to register up to $26 million in advertising sales for the first airing of “Jurassic Park,” and $11 million or more for the second airing. (NBC won’t reveal how many plays it purchased.) What can’t be measured is the promotional value “Jurassic Park” provides NBC during the critical May ratings sweeps. The network will use Sunday’s broadcast to highlight and promote NBC’s entire programming schedule for the coming week.
The real winner of the $50-million deal for “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List,” however, might be Spielberg and MCA Inc., which has bypassed premium cable channels to sell movie packages directly to broadcast networks before. Media analyst David Davis, with the investment banking firm Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin Inc., said the filmmaker and distributor probably would have been looking at $25 million for pay-cable rights to “Jurassic Park,” then another $10 million to $15 million a year or two later for broadcast rights.
* “Jurassic Park” airs 8-11 p.m. Sunday on NBC (Channels 4, 36 and 39).