TV Guide Runs Sponsored Unit On Its Fall Preview Cover For First Time In 68 Years
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TV Guide has had a total of 68 Fall Preview issues in its long history, and over time it has become iconic, heralding the arrival of a new television season and becoming one of the most influential sources of TV information in the country.
This year, TV Guide broke the mold on this piece of television-industry real estate. For the first time, it ran a native-advertising unit on the fall preview issue’s cover. The image was a promotion from NBC, helping the network launch a new show—a reboot of the early 2000s game show, The Weakest Link.
“We did a lot of talking at all levels internally, and in the end we decided it was a perfect meeting of minds. NBC was promoting a show that resonates with our very engaged readers.”
“Fall Preview is our Super Bowl—did we want to break with a tradition going back 68 years and allow branded content on the cover?” asked Tony Frost, TV Guide’s SVP of Operations. “We did a lot of talking at all levels internally, and in the end we decided it was a perfect meeting of minds. NBC was promoting a show that resonates with our very engaged readers.”
The 2020 cover features a distinctive platinum-colored “Fall Preview” type treatment with a hammered-metal texture. That typography dominates the space. But the cover also includes a callout, known as a “chip,” on the lower left, promoting the rebooted show and its new host, Jane Lynch. The show debuted on NBC on September 29th and aired again twice last week.
The magazine’s break from its traditional look came as part of a strategic partnership between TV Guide and NBC, where the network was looking for a breakthrough marketing concept for Weakest Link. (The new version of the show drops the word The from its name.)
“Their total audience is huge,” says Kjerstin Beatty, executive vice president for media strategy and planning at NBC Entertainment. “They’re delivering 1.1 million copies an issue. For us, that represents a bunch of hand-raisers who are into television. They subscribe to the magazine and they’re voraciously consuming the content.”
From that observation came an out-of-the-box advertising opportunity that worked for both TV Guide and NBC.
In addition to its mass circulation, NBC liked that TV Guide readers tend to watch linear TV, meaning they watch shows in real time, when they air on a schedule, rather than streaming them randomly, Beatty says. One challenge in the reboot was finding people who like game shows, and who also might remember the original show, which ran from 2001 to 2003. “We were limited in our ability to find the people who might have watched The Weakest Link when it was on the air, and we really had to sell the show all over again,” Beatty says. “We needed to get the folks who are casual gamers and into trivia-based shows.”
And that was where TV Guide’s hefty reach came in. Beyond the paid circulation of 1.1 million, Frost notes, the magazine has a total reach of 10 million-plus readers.
In a TV ecosystem that’s more fragmented than ever, it is very difficult to reach that kind of qualified large-scale audience with a marketing message, and just as difficult to bring an audience together to watch shows by appointment. “We could have just run an ad-page and it would have been fine,” Beatty says. “But we really started ideating with TV Guide on what would be more impactful.” That, in turn, led to the conversation about a promotional position on the magazine’s revered fall preview cover. In addition, TV Guide’s large print circulation gave NBC access to an off-air audience it needed to recruit.
“It all happened very quickly. We just knew it was something we had to do, and we knew it was going to elevate their brand as well as ours. You need to think about innovation wherever you can make it happen.”
“For me, it was, ‘How could I not do it?’” Beatty says. “It all happened very quickly. We just knew it was something we had to do, and we knew it was going to elevate their brand as well as ours. You need to think about innovation wherever you can make it happen.”
For TV Guide, the native program with NBC also represents marketing innovation. “This concept was first to market, but done tastefully,” says Gary Kleinman, TV Guide vice president of brand partnerships. “It was seamless to our readers, and in keeping with the brand’s traditions, while at the same time reflecting the new media landscape. We think this demonstrates that our brand is as relevant now as it was 68 years ago.”
The program also includes a two-page spread within the magazine featuring, appropriately enough, some trivia about the show.
Beatty credits TV Guide with boldness for allowing a paid placement on its cover. “It speaks volumes for TV Guide,” she says. “I haven’t seen anyone in the print space willing to be as bold. That took a lot of guts.”
The results have been positive so far, Beatty adds. Weakest Link is the largest original launch for NBC since January 2019. “It was a huge success for us,” she says. “We were all doing a happy dance then morning we got the ratings.”
For the record Weakest Link also generated NBC’s top Wednesday rating in six months.
Perhaps someday the 2020 TV Guide Fall Preview issue will reflect today’s media world for future generations as accurately as the magazine’s original covers did for the industry seven decades ago.