Having taken in a billion dollars less in upfront dollars than they did a year ago, major broadcast-network sales and marketing staffs are concocting sponsorships, product placements and other value-added incentives to get the top advertisers interested.
"For the last two years, with the economy as strong as it was, the networks weren't giving anything away. Now, in order to get more revenue into their companies, they have suddenly become more flexible," says Tom DeCabia, executive vice president at media buyer Advanswers PHD. "There are no rules in this game. It's just all dictated by the economy."
NBC is expected this week to unveil a deal with several advertisers that will receive product placement and value-added incentives in its fall reality series Lost. NBC's Vice President of Marketing/Media Analysis Ed O'Donnell had no comment on the Lost
deals but said NBC is trying new avenues with advertisers.
Nokia will be the sole sponsor on the first episode of new ABC series Alias
(Johnson & Johnson did the same thing last season on Gideon's Crossing), and a number of advertisers, including Chrysler and Pepsi, will be getting product placement in the network's midseason reality series The Runner.
Sponsors otherwise will be featured heavily in print and on-air campaigns, on Web sites, and in other added-value attractions.
"When the market is not as strong, you are willing to do more," says Alan Cohen, ABC's executive vice president of advertising, marketing and promotion. "Realistically, though, we here at ABC have had the approach that we want to do more of these deals because they help both of us. It helps get us more awareness and visibility, and it helps them sell more product."
At CBS, Fuji is the lone corporate sponsor on The Amazing Race, and network sales executives have again sold six multimillion-dollar corporate sponsorships for Survivor.
On Survivor: Africa, the third installment of the hit series, sponsors including Cingular Wireless, GM and Visa will get product placement, on-air promos and other incentives along with their regular 30- and 60-second spots.
Fuji came on too late for product placement, but it will be billed as the official film and camera of The Amazing Race
on-air, in print and on the Web site. CBS has a $300 million sponsorship deal with Procter & Gamble, but P&G doesn't get any product placement, network executives say. Procter & Gamble does get better placement in advertising rotations, however, others acknowledge.
"If you look at MTV, VH1 or any of the top cable networks, they've been doing this for a long time," says one top broadcast executive. "They have always looked at it very creatively and taken a radio-sales approach to selling television. When radio-sales guys go out and sell time, 90% of the time, it's a promotion."
Advanswer's DeCabia says there will probably be more deals made that are full of value-added incentives along the lines of UPN's $30 million deal with media buyer Omnicom and its top clients. The Omnicom package with advertisers, among which are McDonald's, Cingular Wireless, Gillette and Sony, will contain on-air promos, sweepstakes and even product placement in UPN shows.
As part of the Omnicom deal, expected sponsor products will be placed within episodes of The Hughleys
and other shows. But UPN is still strongly denying a report that it will give its corner-screen ID bug to sponsors. "That will never happen," says one UPN executive.
"I think everybody realizes that they have to do business differently and they have to be more open than they were before, so that everybody is thinking about different ways of structuring deals than they have in the past," NBC's O'Donnell explains. "Whether it's buying advertiser-supplied programming, whether it's integrating further into a show than you have before, or getting promotional consideration in another media, … I just think the whole state of the business is changing."
Joe Abruzzese, CBS's president of ad sales, says product placement and other added incentives are rewards for big sponsorship deals but the network is not going out of its way to do more of them.
"I think it may cross a line that I'm not so sure everyone wants to take yet; there are pluses and minuses to product placement," Abruzzese notes. "It sounds great for the guy getting it, but, for the competitor who wants to buy a spot in that show, it may keep them from getting in."
The WB's midseason reality series No Boundaries
is sponsored by Ford and will feature contestants driving and winning Ford Explorers. The carmaker already uses the No Boundaries
slogan in its own marketing campaigns.