One of the most interesting stories stemming from the upfronts in TelevisionWeek was Jon Lafayette's piece on The CW selling a show with no traditional advertising in it.
First, for those who haven't heard, the CW Network will be launching a show on Sunday nights called CW Now which will cover new trends in popular culture and consumer culture. The show will not include any traditional 30-second spots. Instead, giant media agency MediaVest has purchased complete sponsorship of the series and will air integrated branded content rather than traditional commercials.
Earlier this month, I wrote about a variety of interesting models that networks are looking at as they launch into the new season. Among these interesting new experiments as well was an experiment from ABC's news division to have complete episodes sponsored by one major advertiser and then featuring only minimal breaks for commercials. That episode was sponsored by CVS.
The CW has already been moving increasingly toward branded content with its content wraps, which I wrote about last month. These involve branded content that airs during what would traditionally be commercial breaks and that connects somehow, such as the plans for Smallville Legends: Justice and Doom, featuring content from Toyota that related back into the show.
MTV recently launched a similar idea, in which a two-hour block of programming, hosted by the Three 6 Mafia, aired short-form content alongside sponsored content for the whole block.
This moves well beyond the sponsored content I have written about in the past wherein a single advertiser's name brands a full episode, such as FX's Nip/Tuck did in season premieres, first with Sony Pictures and then with Pontiac.
No, this seems full circle, right back to the beginning of television with a show regularly sponsored by the same company. In this case, MediaVest represents a variety of companies including, according to the article, "Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart, Kraft, Masterfoods and Activision."
Ironic that P&G is involved, considering that they were important players in starting a genre of entertainment that was explicitly about direct company sponsorship--the soap opera. This is even more ironic, though, because, to this day, MediaVest subsidiary TeleVest produces television for Procter & Gamble Productions, most prominently its daytime soaps As the World Turns and Guiding Light.
The marketers' embrace of a show without commercials reflects the changes wrought on the TV advertising market by digital video recorders, which let viewers fast-forward through spots. Networks and advertisers are turning to product integration and sponsorships as a way to connect with consumers.
A shift this year in how audiences are measured-focusing on how many viewers watch commercials, rather than shows-is giving networks fresh incentive to look for new forms of TV marketing and adjust commercial breaks to keep viewers tuned in.
I think he's quite right that the shifting dynamics of television will lead to the embrace of alternatives, but of course the alternatives will have as close a resemblance to the traditional system as possible for as long as possible. One media industry professional remarked to me the other day that they were surprised not as much by how things were changing but by how remarkably similar this "strange new world" is to the old world. That seems to be the rate of change, though, and the MediaVest/CW initiative is yet another interesting new experiment as networks and advertisers continue to dip their toes in the water.