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CHANGING CHANNELS
TELEVISION BROADCASTING BRANCHES OUT IN NEW DIRECTIONS
REDEFINING AGRICULTURE

In the ever-changing world of agriculture, there are still some things that farmers can count on - such as seeing Max Armstrong and Orion Samuelson on "U.S. Farm Report." For 29 years, the weekly television program has served farmers nationwide with the latest news for their businesses. Now the hour-long program, produced by Tribune Entertainment, will be reaching out to a broader audience as the company expands its traditional definition of agriculture.

"The show has always addressed traditional agriculture topics and news, and it will still continue to do so," says Mike Adinamis, senior vice president of broadcast operations and executive producer for "U.S. Farm Report." "But now we've also decided to turn our attention to the rural lifestyle, looking at the broader needs of farmers and ranchers, along with embracing their rural neighbors."

Whether you call them ruralpolitans, hobbyists, sundowners or lifestyle farmers, growing importance has been placed by media and marketers on this new market of rural homeowners. In early 2004, Tribune Entertainment changed the name of the program to "U.S. Farm Report...Town & Country Living" to reflect this broader definition of ag programming. "We recognize that we have many loyal rural viewers out there who may not fit the traditional definition of a farmer or rancher," Adinamis says. "We've always offered a variety of stories, many of which covered these lifestyle topics. Now we will make these topics a consistent part of our program."

By broadening the program's scope, "U.S. Farm Report" is not only broadening the viewer base but also the advertising base. Tribune hopes to attract advertisers who might not typically advertise in ag programs, such as food, gardening and hardware companies or producers of equine products. "With the contraction of the traditional agriculture industry over these past years, it is necessary to look outward. In order to ensure that there will always be a place on TV for ag programming, the ag media needs to be aware that there are many types of people watching and must reach out to the rural viewer."

The producers of "U.S. Farm Report...Town & Country Living" promise that regular viewers of the show will not be forsaken, as at least 60 percent of the weekly show will still offer ag news, weather, business information and market reports. "All of those things in the show that viewers have come to expect will still be there - we will just be adding more features to address the other needs of the rural lifestyle," Adinamis explains.

Viewers of "U.S. Farm Report" are used to seeing stories on nutrition, cooking, gardening and new products - these topics are a part of the show's regular programming. But Adinamis explains that now these topics will be addressed in specific feature segments, opening up new sponsorship opportunities for advertisers and providing consistency for viewers. The first segments to be rolled out include a home cooking/health and nutrition feature and a rural gardening feature. Other programming, such as country travel, home repair and new products segments, are currently in development and should be up and running by this fall.

The transition has been a slow and subtle change, but viewers and advertisers are starting to take note. "We've seen an increase in ratings, and advertising is really looking up for 2005. These small but important changes are opening up a lot of doors for advertisers to have a direct link to the rural and ag community," Adinamis says.

Viewers of the new "U.S. Farm Report...Town & Country Living" are not going to see a dramatic overhaul, but small changes may be all the program needs. "It's great to be around for 29 years, but if you don't make changes, your program becomes stale," Adinamis says. "With these changes, we are still holding strong as a farm program, but we also are trying to take our place in the general media as well."

INNOVATIVE INTEGRATION

In business, the age-old mantra is that "the customer is always right." But often in media, companies lose sight of that motto, or at the very least, face difficulties in truly responding to their customers' needs.

But at Farm Journal Electronic Media (FJEM), the branch of Farm Journal Media responsible for producing "AgDay," "WeekEnd MarketPlace," "In The Country" and AgWeb, the customer still reigns as king. "We are committed to making our programming available when and where viewers want it," says Tony Behr, vice president of sales for FJEM. "That commitment also extends to providing our advertising clients with the environment necessary to help them reach their target audience."

And the key to that commitment is integration, according to FJEM. Integration, simply put, is building a coordinated message through multiple media, whether that be broadcast, Internet, print or direct mail - all of which Farm Journal Media has to offer clients.

"The integration process has dramatically changed the way our business works - from both a sales and content standpoint," says Brian Conrady, vice president of production for FJEM. "There is not a day that goes by where we're not talking about integration with one customer or another. It can be a juggling act at times, but it certainly has become something that clients have latched onto in recent years."

The cornerstone of FJEM's broadcast offerings are "AgDay" and "WeekEnd MarketPlace." "AgDay" has appeared on the air for more than 20 years, while "WeekEnd MarketPlace" is a more recent development in the past six years. Farm Journal has been working carefully to develop the two programs into unique brands with specific niche audiences.

"The two programs are different in style, content and makeup - and also who we target," Conrady says. "Five days a week, 52 weeks a year, 'AgDay' delivers all the news, weather and market information our producer audience has come to expect. In addition, the program spends a great deal of time reaching out to consumers to tell the story of ag. 'WeekEnd MarketPlace,' on the other hand, is all about the business of agriculture, targeted exclusively to the nation's top farmers and ranchers. It has also developed into FJEM's on-the-road show, frequently originating from events such as Commodity Classic and farm shows."

With nationwide programming on more than 170 affiliate stations, some may wonder how FJEM still manages to meet the needs of individual customers. One such way is through its advanced methods of distribution, according to Behr. "We understand that some advertisers can't blanket the entire country due to labeling, legal or product distribution issues," Behr says. "Therefore, we have a proprietary method that allows us to target commercial messages to a regional split, or even an individually selected list of markets. We are then able to coordinate that level of broadcast targeting with additional print, Internet, direct mail and database efforts."

Farm Journal Media also uses this same level of integration to meet the needs of broadcast viewers. FJEM has been Internet streaming "AgDay" and "WeekEnd MarketPlace" on www.agweb.com for the past five years. Streaming allows viewers to access the broadcast programs whenever and wherever they want - truly delivering broadcast on demand. "We always knew that we could do it," Conrady says. "Now the time has come to take it to the next level. As more and more people, particularly producers, gain high-speed Internet access, watching video online is becoming a normal activity." In addition, this integration between broadcast and online media offers one more opportunity for advertisers to reach a broader audience.

One example of how this integration works for clients is with the recent AgDay/Garst I-35 Crop Tour, which first aired in early May. The program featured visits to five farms along Interstate 35 from Texas to Minnesota; the reports aired on "AgDay" and were also featured on AgWeb. The show will follow up with the farmers in a similar manner midseason, and again near harvest, providing a vehicle for Garst to reach its customers while providing viewers with important information. According to Lori Thomas, marketing manager for Garst Seed Co., "TV isn't always in the media mix for Garst. But this I-35 program, along with its tie-in to AgWeb, is a novel way for us to align our messages and provide valuable information for growers."

Farm Journal Electronic Media expects media integration to only increase over the next couple of years. "Capturing and holding someone's attention is always a challenge. Fortunately, being able to coordinate message delivery across multiple platforms, including the sight, sound, motion, and emotional aspect of television, really helps to make the job a little easier."

A CHANGE OF SCENERY

Launched in December 2000, RFD-TV has made its mark as the first 24-hour television network tailored to rural America. And now the network is making its mark in a whole new location. In April, the network made its move from Carrollton, Texas, to NorthStar Studios in Nashville, Tenn., complete with a launch party and live two-hour studio audience program.

Patrick Gottsch, president of RFD-TV, says the decision to relocate was based on a strategic plan to bolster the network's music and entertainment programming. "While we are a vital source of information about agriculture, RFD-TV is much more than an 'ag channel'," Gottsch says. "We focus on the rural lifestyle with programs about outdoor cooking, music, horses, trains and much more. However, our programming is also attracting city dwellers as well as people who live in rural areas."

The diversity of programming is easily seen with a look at the line-up. The network offers programming on traditional agriculture, such as "U.S. Farm Report" and "Today's Ag", along with equine shows, including "Parelli Natural Horsemanship" with Pat and Linda Parelli and high school rodeos. Rural lifestyle programming is also in abundance on the network, with programs such as "Talking Tractors" and "Lucy's Classic Cooking". In addition, RFD-TV has presented programs from a number of associations and government agencies, such as reports from state farm bureaus and broadcasts from the FFA National Convention.

"Nashville was chosen over other possible locations not only because its historical role as an entertainment center but also because of its rich agricultural and equestrian heritage," Gottsch says. "This heritage, combined with the talent of songwriters, musicians and production crews, makes Nashville an ideal base from which to expand our programming."

The production capabilities offered by NorthStar were also a big draw to the network. NorthStar's 125,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility also provides television and production services nationally for the entertainment industry, corporations, government, sports and news organizations.

The launch celebration, held on April 8, featured music from the Sons of Tennessee and The Cumberland Highlanders, along with interviews with various network personalities, including Joe Siedlik of "Big Joe Polka Show," Clinton Anderson of "DownUnder Horsemanship," and Meredith Hodges of "Training Mules & Donkeys." The party also included tours of the NorthStar facility, an antique tractor display and a barbecue sponsored by the National Pork Board.

Nearly 400 guests, including programmers and viewers from 17 states, attended the launch party. "We are honored by the enthusiastic support we have received from the Mayor's Office, Governor's Office, Chamber of Commerce, Country Music Association, Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation and other business, government and civic leaders in Nashville," Gottsch said. "We were elated so many of them joined us to celebrate our Nashville launch." AM


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