American Idol has seen a surge in its Web traffic with the aid of several new blue-chip advertisers.
This month, Americanidol.com plans to launch an unspecified weekly giveaway with Ford, one of several promotions of its kind, according to Jeff King, general manager of the site and VP of Fox Interactive Media.
It's part of a makeover that the site has undergone over the past year, to make it both more appealing to users and redesign it as an “advertising showcase,” he says.
And viewers have already caught on. On Jan. 16, the night of Idol's season premiere in 2007, site traffic was up 99.4% over the night of the 2006 premiere, according to data from comScore Media Metrix.
New advertisers include Maybelline, which is sponsoring exit interviews with voted-off contestants; McDonald's, which is backing show recaps; and Fruit of the Loom, which is sponsoring a video player. The advertisers are lending their brands to skins on various video players on the site.
“We looked at how we can maximize the site to make the most page views and the best user experience but at the same time giving advertisers more custom space,” says King.
The changes came after Fox transferred the site's operation from Fox Broadcasting Co. to Fox Interactive Media during last year's season. That gave the site its own full sales force, which has been working through the year to bring in new advertisers with more-creative options.
Coca-Cola, for example, has sponsored Idol's site from the start as one of three marquee sponsors of the show. This year, the company tried something different, asking fans to design Coke cups and offering to put the winner's cup into the show. In the couple of weeks before Idol's TV season, the contest drew 20,000 entries, Fox says.
Idol isn't the only show extending its online reach and making its online advertising more creative. As all networks get more innovative with their online programming, they are developing unique advertising options.
MTV, for example, launched online virtual worlds for its reality shows Laguna Beach and The Hills in September and January, respectively. “Virtual Laguna Beach” has since amassed more than 350,000 subscribers and integrated advertisers in creative ways.
For instance, Pepsi saw that 6,000 people bought 12,000 virtual cans of their soda from in-world vending machines. It also offered subscribers a branded magazine, with alerts about new developments in the town, and “MTV dollars” that could be used to buy Pepsi T-shirts and other clothing that their avatars could wear on the site.
MTV launched Virtual Laguna Beach with Pepsi and three other clients—Cingular, Secret and Universal Studios Home Entertainment—all of which had already advertised online with MTV. Execs declined comment on whether money was exchanged in the deals, only calling them a “learning experience” for all involved.
“From an advertiser's perspective, the ability to track behavior is extremely valuable,” says Jeff Yapp, executive VP of business enterprises for MTV Networks' Music Group. “At the individual level, being able to understand behavior is the cornerstone of return on investment.”
MTV Networks is working on deals with new partners and planning two new virtual-world sites—one built around music, the other tied to its gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender network Logo.
Bravo is taking another tack: a live Web show, Watch What Happens, where guests from its reality shows answer viewers' calls, e-mails and text messages.
The show, which has yet to be ad-sponsored, has posted record traffic totals to Bravotv.com (more than 3 million page views the day of its second installment, per Bravo), and Bravo is considering expanding it to another night. At the same time, Bravo's TV programming has grown; its Top Chef finished its second season last week 108% better than it started. But whether ratings and Web-show traffic are correlated is impossible to say.