Small but scrappy Zilo Networks is hoping Nielsen’s presence will increase the importance of college students in the mind of cable operators and Madison Ave. By Catherine Applefeld Olson The protective cocoon of college life will crack a bit next year as Nielsen begins tracking viewing habits of college students. With the spotlight aimed at channels targeting this somewhat-elusive demo, tiny Zilo Networks hopes this will be its chance to shine. Zilo produces programs and operates a network 12 hours per week featuring primarily dramatic series and coverage of campus events it sponsors. The network has been on campuses since 2000, when it acquired College Campus Television and its 2 million viewers. It has since graduated to 5.5 million viewers at 350 schools and claims an additional 3.2 million viewers in surrounding communities. Zilo is one of three networks that bought its way onto campus. In 2002, National Lampoon grabbed up Burly Bear Network, founded by Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels. MTV purchased College Television Network in 2004, re-branding it as mtvU. Quintessential college brand National Lampoon Network is rife with edgy original game shows and comedy-driven series, several starring the network’s favorite son, comedian Ben Gleib; mtvU carries on its namesake’s bent for short-form entertainment and reality programs, fine-tuned for college-age viewers. Unlike its more niche-specific competitors, Zilo positions itself as a general interest network for young adults. Major Misbehavior, an in-your-face Court TV co-production that probes the relationship between campus police and students at schools ranging from Virginia Tech to Princeton, is among Zilo’s most popular series. ACLU-endorsed Freedom Files, from documentary maker Robert Greenwald of Outfoxed fame, showcases instances of civil liberties infringements. Exiled is an original Survivor-style reality series set on campus. "We didn’t set up this network to be entirely about male frat humor," says Zilo CEO David Isaacs. New series Cheerleaders, for example, eschews a legs and midriff fest, and is instead a serious documentary filmed at the University of Delaware. Zilo’s viewers skew about 52-48 male to female. Not that Zilo shies away from entertainment. Its Zilo Live division produces on- and off-campus events that frequently find their way onto the network. Eye-grabbers include the Extreme Team College Games, College Music Awards, Lotus Tour and Off the Hook Comedy Tour. Sponsors include GM, the U.S. Army and HBO. The company, whose executives say is a profitable one, also has a deal with The History Channel where History pays Zilo to run one of its series each year. Last year Zilo carried THC’s Mail Call; this year it’s running Modern Marvels. "Our relationship with Zilo will definitely continue," says Mike Mohamed, THC SVP of marketing. "They are a good entry point for young people to get involved with History. Whatever we’ve done with them, it’s had an impact." BUSINESS WITH BET Zilo’s entrenchment in the young adult demographic is opening other doors. BET just signed the company to produce a martial arts series called The Iron Ring. It will run this fall exclusively on BET. The soup-to-nuts concept of creating, promoting and filming live events is a familiar modus operandi for Isaacs and Zilo president Campbell McLaren, who cut their teeth running PPV outfit Semaphore Entertainment Group. "PPV inherently targets young adults. The reason we started [Zilo] is that the college campus looked a lot to us like the PPV universe," Isaacs says. "We knew there were sponsors that wanted a meaningful way to get in touch with this audience." YOUNG PROCRASTINATORS Nielsen’s ratings expansion "is definitely a good thing for the networks," says Toni Urbano, president of the Association of Higher Education Cable Television Administrators, which promotes cable in university environs. "The benefit is they can go back to their advertisers and say, `Here’s this enticing demographic, and they’re watching our shows.’" And watching they are, perhaps more than mom and dad would care to know. Nielsen claims students view a whopping 24.3 hours of TV per week. MTV, ESPN, Comedy Central, HBO and VH1 are the most-watched cable networks on four-year campuses, according to Student Monitor, which notes 44% of students watch their local university channel—including Zilo—while 43% tune in to mtvU and 5% watch National Lampoon. "The Nielsen data will draw attention to the [college] category in general, and there’s an opportunity for [Zilo] to at least increase people’s awareness of the fact that they exist," says Student Monitor managing partner Eric Weil. NO STANDARDIZED TESTS There is no standard for how programming is delivered at colleges and universities, and each of the three competing networks employs a different delivery model: mtvU is primarily a satellite-delivered, site-based network found in cafeterias and student centers, while National Lampoon reaches students mainly through leased access. Zilo hitched itself to existing campus channels—its programming is carried in blocks or sporadically, depending on the school. It sees its close alliance with schools as its best asset in gaining expanded carriage. "Colleges are a strange place to work," Isaacs says. "They are not driven by profit; they’re driven by quality of programming and their own agendas," he adds. YOUTHFUL POTENTIAL But a campus presence gives cable operators the ability to stake a claim in a market with enormous potential. While students have little disposable income during their college years, they will be coveted after graduation. "College students are exactly the type of customers cable operators want to hook early, before they get out in the world and have to decide from whom to order their cable, high-speed Internet access and telephone service," Isaacs says. Almost 80% of on-campus students get their programs from cable or DBS, according to Student Monitor. Some 80% of Zilo’s affiliates are closed-circuit campus operations. The remaining 20% are cable operators, who also service off-campus subscribers. In a familiar scenario, cable and DBS are competing on campus. "With technology changing so rapidly, the contracts are getting shorter," says Urbano. "The schools want to keep their options open." The depth of DBS penetration on campus will be known later this month, when AHECTA releases a study at its annual meeting. Zilo Networks at a Glance Launch Date: 2000
Headquarters: New York
Subscribers: 5.5 million campus-based cable subs plus 3.2 million broadcast homes
Executives: David Isaacs, CEO; Campbell McLaren, president/creative director; Sharyn Taymor, head of business development & sales; Jennifer Vasquez, manager of campus affiliate marketing; Julie Zied, programming coordinator; Monica Jara, vice president of communications
Competition: mtvU, MTV, ESPN, ESPNU, CSTV, comedy Central, HBO, VH1, National Lampoon Network

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