While the demise of the 30-second spot has been forecast for years, few networks have attempted to stick a fork in it the way the CW and media agency MediaVest plan to this fall.
The network that celebrates the hunt for the next top model or the next pussycat doll is also, in effect, searching for the next TV business model with a new magazine show for the 18-34 set, “CW Now.”
The show, skedded for Sundays at 7 p.m., will air entirely without 30-second spots, turning its back on the predominant TV business model in favor of product placements, sponsored pop-up chyrons, mini-episodes built around one of the three main sponsors, and anything else the producers can dream up — and that Madison Avenue will pay for.
The show itself is a magazine-style half-hour skein focused on fashion, tech, culture, art, celebrity or, as exec producer Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey calls it, “a trends show with benefits.”
The benefits are no traditional commercials, and content geared to tipping youth off on trends: Gray is the new black; navy nail polish; and caffeine in everything from lollipops to donuts to suntan lotion.
The idea for the show grew out of a commercial. Last fall, the newly formed CW pitched the idea of the “content wrap” to Madison Avenue. In place of a traditional break containing several ads, an advertiser would commission a two- to three-minute “wrap,” or programming related to a particular product that took up the entire commercial pod.
The network ended up producing 20 of the mini-programs with various advertisers, including one that was a mini-magazine show produced by “Extra” exec producer Gregorisch-Dempsey for “America’s Next Top Model.” It was called “CWH” or “C What’s Hot,” “C What’s Happening,” or “C What’s Hip,” built around Proctor & Gamble’s Herbal Essences brand.
“CWH” ended up retaining nearly all of “Model’s” aud.
“We were blown away in the beginning by the numbers on retention; we were retaining close to 100% of the viewers during the breaks,” says Brent Poer, senior VP at Connective Tissue, a branded entertainment division of MediaVest, a unit of Paris-based Publicis Groupe.
CW pitched the “wrap” as a half-hour, 52-week series, and MediaVest made the unusual move of buying up all the ad inventory, essentially making the show exclusive to MediaVest clients, which include Procter & Gamble, Coke, Wal-Mart, Wendy’s and Starwood Hotels.
Now Gregorisch-Dempsey and her co-exec producer, Mike Miller at Telepictures Prods., are programming the entire 27 minutes, without the requisite commercial breaks.
The pitch for the “wrap” concept is that young people are less willing to sit through commercials. CW is particularly afflicted by viewer flight during the ads, losing about 9% of its aud during the blurbs, a figure that puts it in a league with youth-skewing cable nets like MTV and VH1, according to research conducted by media firm Magna Global.
MediaVest’s Poer says they’ll limit each show to three main sponsors that will each get a 1½-minute “wrap” within the show, as well as various other product integrations. Outside the “wraps,” integrations will be subtle, Poer says, because “if it’s not newsworthy or relevant, it doesn’t have a place in the show.”
The producers are keeping an eye out for MediaVest clients in coming up with story ideas — no easy task given that some of them, like processed cheese, don’t seem to have a connection to cutting-edge trends. Still, since “CW Now” viewers will be voting on top songs of the week, Miller suggested pitching a sponsorship to Kraft Singles.
Wal-Mart, the nation’s biggest retailer of DVDs, could sponsor a planned seg on new movie, music and vidgame releases for the coming week.
Ghen Maynard, executive veep of alternative programming at CBS Paramount Network TV, says the network is using the half-hour as a test bed for new ad concepts. They’re tossing around split screens, or little chyrons that pop up, say, during a fashion segment with info on where to buy what’s being shown.
“CW Now” is skedded alongside another experiment, “Online Nation” hosted by YouTube diva Stevie “Little Loca” Ryan.
“In the short run, we hope we will be able to improve the timeslot,” Maynard says. “The bar isn’t very high, because the numbers weren’t off the charts with reruns.”
With just three main advertisers and without the traditional “pods” packed with spots, producers say the result will be a less commercialized space.
One of Poer’s challenges is to convince MediaVest’s clients, some of the biggest advertisers in the business, to pay a premium to be involved in the show for what may seem to them to be limited exposure.
“There is value to creating a new ad model and limiting ad clutter,” he says. “Even in a show where you have only one spot, is it more valuable because you have limited commercialization throughout? That’s what we’re going to find out.”