If it looks like a TV show and acts like a TV show, will viewers forget it’s really a new kind of TV commercial?
Time Warner’s Turner dipped its feet more readily into new waters that have tempted a variety of TV networks over the past year, vowing Monday to “replace the traditional commercial pod with a space more powerful and impactful to the viewer.” The big cable programming company, which operates TNT, TBS and Cartoon Network, among others, indicated it would produce longer-form content for its sponsors or use video content previously earmarked for digital venues. The move follows the unveiling of “Courageous,” an in-house studio designed to create video pieces for advertisers on HLN and CNN, in 2015, and is led by ad-sales chief Donna Speciale.
Turner is among a plethora of TV networks hoping to get more advertising dollars from marketers who think their pitches will perform better if they don’t look like old-school TV commercials. On the web, marketers are growing more savvy with use of so-called “native” advertising, or display ads that look much like the content they support. Now TV, which has long relied on placing logos and products into its programs, wants to avail itself of the technique more strongly.
In 2015, Fox Networks Group struck a deal with Tony Sella, a longtime movie-marketing executive, to create “original content” for advertisers across Fox Broadcasting, FX Networks, Fox Sports and National Geographic. A+E Networks recently hired Jim Hoffman, an NBC ad-sales veteran, to bring to advertisers’ attention content projects in development as well as find ways of creating content that features sponsors. Viacom last year began to push more heavily a unit that helps create video vignettes for advertisers that have the look and feel of the programming on networks like MTV and Comedy Central.
The moves are not without risk. For decades, TV networks have thrived on running a few dozen 15-, 30- and 60-second TV commercials every hour. Replacing some of them with longer vignettes means the networks may do less business overall. To compensate for any potential loss, the networks are likely to charge a premium for efforts that help marketers tailor the ads to specific audiences and for the use of any proprietary data that helps advertiser find those crowds in the first place.
Turner’s efforts seemed to begin in earnest last year. In October, the company’s truTV said it would, starting in the fourth quarter of 2016, fill more time on the network with TV programming and reduce the amount of commercials and promos. In all, truTV would run just 10 minutes to 11 minutes of national commercials and promos, compared to 18 minutes to 19 minutes at present. As a result, episodes of shows that air under the new model could run as long as 25 minutes.