Animal Planet fundraiser for a pit bull shelter rakes in viewers over holiday

By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 1, 2010; 10:24 PM

Marketing smarties at Animal Planet have come up with the Practically Perfect viewer magnet.

It's called: You Watch, We Give.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, Animal Planet promised to donate 10 cents per viewer, up to $50,000, for the Nov. 27 episode of its series "Pit Bulls & Parolees." The show, now in its second season, follows Tia Torres, the founder and director of the Los Angeles area's Villalobos Rescue Center for unwanted pit bulls that's run by parolees.

The Silver Spring-based network promoted the stunt on its own air, and got the word out via Facebook and Twitter.

Come 10 p.m. on Nov. 27, about 1 million people watched the show. That's 54 percent more people than the show has averaged this season to date, which is an impressive accomplishment on a holiday weekend, when the number of Homes Using Television - or HUT level, as it's called in the biz - tends to do a swan dive.

It's also 60 percent better than Animal Planet averaged on the Saturday night after last year's Thanksgiving.

"These were amazing numbers for us on Thanksgiving weekend," Marjorie Kaplan, Animal Planet's president and general manager, told the TV Column.

Having hit the cap, Animal Planet is donating $50,000 to Villalobos Rescue Center, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. That would, according to the animal rescue's Web site, cover about three months' operating expenses. For Animal Planet, however, it's chump change compared with, say, launching a marketing campaign to try to drive more viewers to the show.

"This is a way for us to use our own air to create value for us because it drives viewership - and value for Tia - in a way that is financially attractive to us.

"We're using the passion base," Kaplan added. "The same people who care about what she's doing will come to watch the show in a way that is far less expensive than trying to go out and reach them through traditional marketing efforts."

As marketing campaigns go, this one is kinda genius. Imagine if Fox had offered to hand over a few thou to a nonprofit group working to save the Amazon rain forest if people would only watch its new comedy "Running Wilde"? Instead, Fox has decided not to order the so-called "back nine" episodes on the latest Will Arnett series, and the show will end its short life, because the network's marketing people lacked the vision of the Animal Planet folks.

Heck, with enough nonprofit organizations and not too much money in broadcast-TV terms, NBC might actually get people to watch its prime-time lineup - even "Chuck."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company