CYNOPSIS Presents: ION: Special Delivery
by Susan Pocharski
Note to ad buyers: During the 2016-17 Upfront season, if a gourmet lunch suddenly appears on your desk, chances are you’ll have ION Television to thank. The free eats are part of the Network’s “ION Delivers” program, now in its sixth year. “It’s a fun way for us to connect with our agency partners,” says Stephen Appel, Head of Network Sales, ION Television, whose network distributes more than a thousand tasty meals during spring’s busiest time. The loud-and-clear message they’re sending to their media partners: “That ION consistently delivers an unparalleled combination of advertiser value, program quality, and audience reach and insights,” says Appel.
ION Television is one of the few networks to experience steady growth in an otherwise turbulent time in TV viewing patterns. “We have excellent momentum, coming off our sixth straight season of year-over-year gains; we’re the only top-10 cable network to achieve this,” says Appel. “In fact, we just wrapped up our most-watched quarter in five years among all key demos. And that growth has not come at the expense of quality – our viewers remain highly engaged and ad-receptive.”
Key to ION’s continued success is its unique mix of original dramas (Saving Hope is now in its third season) and acquired programming, which includes four of the five most watched dramas on TV: Law and Order: SVU, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Law and Order and Criminal Minds, all of which frequently run as 2-14 hour marathon blocks.
“ION carefully curates a programming lineup that promotes binge-like viewing throughout the evening,” says David Campanelli, SVP, Director of National TV Buying for Horizon Media. “ION knows its audience and continually delivers programming that appeals to its audience.”
Like Netflix and other successful streaming services, ION gets the beauty of binge-watching, a term that exploded into mainstream use only a couple of years ago. But to truly understand the trend, the Network hired Dr. Grant McCracken, a noted cultural anthropologist and MIT professor who has studied the phenomenon, to do a deep dive on just how binge-watching impacts ION viewers. “In our study, Dr. McCracken found that, due to the nature of our programming, ION audiences ‘watch small,’ meaning they watch in greater detail with a particularly high quality of attention,” says Appel.
In other words, binge-watching isn’t just good for audiences, it’s good for advertisers, too. “Ads and the brands they represent clearly benefit from this elevated engagement,” says Appel. “Viewers watch multiple episodes at a time, and they pay attention to our advertisers’ messages and act on them.”
Indeed. A quick scan of the latest comments on ION’s Facebook page gives you a glimpse of how laser-focused the ION audience can be. “I’m watching the Leverage marathon today,” shared one viewer, referring to the network’s acquired drama that follows a band of modern-day Robin Hoods. “I have it on in two rooms so I won’t miss a thing.”
“I’ve seen every episode of Law and Order at least 10 times,” wrote another. “Thanks to ION TV, I can almost recite all of the actors’ lines with them!”
“Our audience has proven its loyalty time and time again,” says Appel. “With 97% live viewership [one of the highest live viewing percentages in the industry, he notes], ION’s lineup is appointment viewing for our viewers, and their time spent viewing is at a level that’s nearly twice that of the average cable network. Our viewers know and love their shows with a particular intensity – they have a real attention to detail and they become completely absorbed in the programming.”
That devoted (and DVR-resistant) viewership has resulted in ION’s rise to a top 10 network in all key demos, including their core audience of Adults 25-54. “Advertisers are beginning to realize that, due to our broad audience footprint, we also deliver strong African-American and Hispanic audiences, who choose broadcast television in combination with OTT services. We’re a true broad-based network with both a cable and broadcast/OTA footprint, so we reach everyone.”
As for the desired yet often elusive millennial viewer, Appel believes they’re discovering blockbuster shows like Law and Order: SVU for the first time on ION. “We’re the fastest-growing network with millennials among the top 25 cable networks this season,” says Appel. “While overall growth on Saturday night among our core demo is very strong, the younger demo is actually outperforming – we’re seeing a +60% gain there, our best Saturday night ratings with millennials.”
While it’s hardly a news flash that broadcast and cable ratings are down this year (about 8 percent and 5 percent, respectively), ION’s unique hybrid broadcast/cable television platform provides advertisers with a steadier, more risk-adverse environment. ION owns 60 television stations across the country – in 24 of the top 25 DMAs – and is also distributed nationally over satellite and cable. All told, the network reaches 98 million U.S. households.
“ION’s unique platform puts us in a great position to expand the unduplicated audience of any media plan against cable buys,” says Appel. “ION yields 2.5 times the ROI of a typical cable dollar spent. And unlike most other cable networks, we’ve delivered our schedule in flight and in quarter for the past six years. We’re very proud of that.”
Campanelli not only likes ION’s reach, but its ability to hold onto coveted viewers. “Clearly audiences are finding more ways, across more platforms, to consume the content they like,” he says. “This can lead to cord-cutting. But inherent in ION’s distribution is its nature as a broadcast network – if you’re a cord cutter or someone who has never signed up for cable, you still have access to ION – making it more immune to any cord cutting. Plus, ION has carefully crafted a programming lineup that appeals to its viewers in a live-viewing environment.”
Of course, ION’s not just about Law and Order and Criminal Minds. During the holiday season, the network offers a slate of original festive films, as well as theatrical releases and the ION Lounge experience, a second-screen program that bridges on-air, online and mobile and creates opportunities for advertisers to explore integrations and custom content.
“The ION Lounge, with Kelly Nash, has hosted nights scheduled around our popular series and movies, including a Bond-A-Thon from the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.,” says Appel. “Our original holiday movies feature fashion and gift ideas. The ION Kitchen, hosted by Lauren O’Quinn, is a place where we share recipes and entertaining tips, and home expert Martin Amado provides DIY, decor and home improvement tips in branded segments for ION@HOME. Sponsorships extend with branded content to iontelevision.com and mobile, as well as social media.”
In short, says Jason Kanefsky, EVP, Strategic Investments, Havas Media, “ION offers tremendous value to its clients. Solid ratings in a fragmented environment, coupled with best in class customer service, places ION in the upper tier of all networks.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Appel and his team will be moving through this year’s Upfronts with a well-earned confidence. “Our ratings are up; our audience watches live; we have the lowest duplication of the top 30 cable networks, giving us increased reach; we offer a unique platform that reaches both cable and broadcast homes; we have no delivery issues; and we’re an exceptionally well-priced value in the market,” says Appel. “I honestly can’t remember a time when ION was better positioned for an Upfront.”
Yet another good reason why lunch is on ION.
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