Vol. 33, No. 2, May 2005, pp. 139–158
Promoting Movies on Television
Susan Tyler Eastman, Nancy C. Schwartz & Xiaomei Cai
Although many factors affecting a movie’s success lie outside a television network’s control, on-air promotion is produced by the network and can be utilized to varying degrees of effectiveness. This study measured the impact of 10 promotional variables on broadcast movie ratings by analyzing 813 prime-time promos for 137 televised movies. Results showed how the effectiveness of promotion differed according to a movie’s familiarity, popularity, and compatibility. The ratings for made-for-television movies were most affected by the promotion’s audience reach, frequency of exposure, and close distance in time to movie airdates; in contrast, theatrical movies aired on television were more affected by promotional reach and the construction of the promotional spot. The findings supported the general salience model of on-air program promotion but also demonstrated that the factors affecting television movie promotion differ markedly from those affecting dramatic and comedy series promotion.
Keywords: Movies; Programming; Promotion; Television
The on-air spots that market upcoming programs to audiences (usually called promos) are vital to the health of the television industry. This importance is illustrated by the willingness of the Big Four networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) to forego the staggering amount of more than $4 billion in annual advertising revenue to promote their programs (Eastman, 2000). Previous studies have shown that various structural characteristics of on-air promotion directly and significantly affect the size of particular program audiences (Perse, 2000). To date, the effects of on-air promotion have been measured as impacts on Nielsen ratings for three types of programs: primetime series (Eastman & Newton, 1998; Walker, 1993; Walker & Eastman, 2003),
Susan Tyler Eastman (Ph.D., Bowling Green State University) is Professor Emerita of Telecommunication, and
Nancy C. Schwartz (Ph.D., Indiana University) is a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Telecommunications at
Indiana University; Xiaomei Cai (Ph.D., Indiana University) is Assistant Professor in the Department of
Communication at the University of Delaware. Correspondence to: Susan Tyler Eastman, Department of
Telecommunications, 1229 E. Seventh Street, Bloomington, IN 47405-5501, USA; Email: email@example.com.
ISSN 0090-9882 (print)/ISSN 1479-5752 (online) q 2005 National Communication Association
140 S. T. Eastman et al.
situation comedies (Eastman & Bolls, 2000; Eastman & Newton, 1999), and sports
(Eastman & Billings, 2004; Eastman, Newton, & Pack, 1996). Televised movies account for 50– 60% of prime-time each week on the major networks (Adams & Eastman,
2002). This represents a substantial programming investment, yet movies are one major program type for which promotion’s impact on Nielsen ratings remains largely unexplored. Television viewers are exposed to thousands of messages annually that attempt to get them to think, feel, and behave in particular ways. Among these are messages designed to get audiences to view specific programs. Typically, promos are more than mere announcements; they try to make viewers behave in particular ways and thus are vital components of programming strategies (Ferguson, Eastman, & Klein, 2002), and the factors influencing their impact are important elements of programming theory
(Perse, 2000). Because promos have high cost to industry purchasers, and because promotion of movies in particular is central to network and station strategies to capture viewers (both weekly and especially in the February and May sweeps), empirical data showing how to maximize effectiveness when promoting movies should be of practical value to the television industry. At the same time, a better understanding of how promotion operates should