Time Warner’s newest pet does a lot more than cough up hairballs.
When “Cat Dick Mysteries”debuts on the company’s Adult Swim cable outlet this evening during the last hour before midnight, it will feature a grizzled feline detective and his canine assistant, both of whom help spread the word for a sponsor. You won t find the new series on any TV schedule. And yet, the program will appear every evening this week – during commercial breaks on Adult Swim broadcasts of “Family Guy.”
Each 60-second episode of “Cat Dick Mysteries” shows the potentially flea-bitten duo, Cat Dick and Lucky Dog, trying to find out why a web mogul’s digital influencers are all dying. By the end of the week – spoiler alert! – they will discover the culprit to be second-hand smoke. And they will help promote the goals of Truth, the non-profit organization devoted to ending teenage use of tobacco products.
“It feels like something that came from our voice,” said Jason DeMarco, senior vice president and creative director, on-air, for Adult Swim, in an interview. “On a lot of other networks, an ad break is a thing you’ve got to get through to get back to the show.”
Adult Swim has long maintained a decidedly unorthodox environment. But its efforts could bear more scrutiny in days ahead as many other TV networks try to emulate its methods. The outlet, home to an animated series showing the crime-fighting adventures of Mike Tyson and to another depicting the antics of anthropomorphic hillbilly mud squids, has long run fewer commercials and shorter commercial breaks than its contemporaries. Its typical commercial interruption lasts two to two and a half minutes. And the network runs about 11 to 12 minutes of ad time per hour, compared to an average that gets as high as 17 minutes in many other places.
Turner is betting its Adult Swim strategy could help it stand apart at a time when more TV advertisers are seeking such stuff, often called “branded content:” or “native advertising. Dan Riess, who oversees content partnerships for Turner’s ad sales unit, thinks many advertisers are concerned such stuff will turn into a series of “one offs” that appear in individual episodes of shows, but can’t be built into the bigger-reach concepts many sponsors need. “How do we do it bigger? This is one way,” he explained, pointing to the company’s willingness to distribute the ad content via digital and social media. “This is episodic,” he said.” It runs on consecutive nights.”As TV’s annual “upfront” market gets underway, Adult Swim’s model is being embraced by others, who see a need to run fewer, more bespoke ads in their mix as well. As TV viewers migrate to streaming video, they are being served fewer ads, and in some cases, ads they can choose to watch. To keep TV viewers satisfied, so the emerging theory goes, TV networks must tie the commercials more closely to the content that drew viewers to their screen in the first place.
“If advertisers let us do what our audience is actually looking for, that will end up helping both of us,” said DeMarco.
Turner, the Time Warner unit that operates Adult Swim, is looking to run fewer ads on TruTV, as well as in some TNT dramas over the next few months, and is offering to help create commercials for clients that dovetail with programming. Viacom has pledged to trim ads in primetime on some of its networks and also offered to create content on sponsors’ behalf. Fox’s National Geographic Channel has pledged to cut ad time, while NBC has announced it will reduce commercials in “Saturday Night Live” by 30% next season.
Adult Swim won’t rely solely on its eyebrow-raising cat-and-dog tale to the get the word out. Each 60-second vignette will air in what is becoming known in the TV industry as an “isolated” ad pod, or a commercial break devoted entirely to the sponsor paying for the tailored pitch. The “Cat Dick” stories will be paired with cat-themed video interstitials as well as information about a contest that asks viewers to submit cat-themed content to creators of “FishCenter,” an Adult Swim call-in program superimposed over a view of fish swimming in a tank. The winner will be unveiled on Friday, May 20.
“Cat Dick Mysteries” have been purring internally at Adult Swim for some time, said DeMarco. He came up with the cat-and-dog gumshoes four years ago, he recalled, then floated the concept at the network within the last two years. The original premise was “a cat detective who was kind of a jerk, and his partner was a dog, who was kind of sweet,” he recalled. Truth’s animal-themed concept lent his team an impetus to try to transform the concept into reality.
As more TV networks seek new kinds of commercial concept, this cat might have more than nine lives.