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ABC Wants to Shake Up Ad Plan Behind ‘American Idol’

Fox used “American Idol” over a decade to snare top-dollar TV sponsorships from blue-chip marketers like Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Co. and AT&T. ABC wants big money too when it revives the popular competition next year  – but not all of it will be tied to the living-room screen.

ABC hopes to shake up the ad model behind the series, which is slated to return to the airwaves with Katy Perry as one of its panel of judges. And while the Disney-owned network expects traditional sponsors to appear in the show, it’s also pitching Madison Avenue on a new way to get involved.

“We are thinking about ‘Idol’ in a different way,” said Rita Ferro, president of ad sales for Disney/ABC Television Group, in an interview. “It’s really being driven by social involvement and how we can continue the storylines from the show throughout the week.” ABC is pitching advertisers to attach themselves to video related to “Idol” that is distributed digitally on days when the linear show is not on the air.

The maneuver suggests TV networks want to use their most popular properties not only to snag traditional 30-second TV ads for soup, soda and smartphones, but also to capture new kinds of commercials that can be beamed to fans armed with mobile screens.  Mobile advertising  is expected to  drive digital-ad growth around the world in 2017,according to Magna, the Interpublic Group-owned media research agency.  In the U.S, mobile ad spend is expected to rise 34.2% in 2017, to $48 billion, according to Magna. Spending on national TV, meanwhile, is seen falling 3%, to $43 billion.

Disney said Thursday that advertisers committed 20% more on digital ad inventory associated with Disney/ABC Television Group in this year’s upfront ad-sales market than they did in 2016.

“We really want to make sure the right partners are involved” with “Idol,” said Ferro, who suggested ABC will seek ad partners who will consider new ways to reach a “community” around the show through a variety of experiences.

American Idol” has been instrumental in shaping new forms of advertising and media use. Early in the show’s tenure on Fox, AT&T asked fans to vote by text message for their favorite contestants – helping to transform that behavior into a mainstream habit. Coca-Cola achieved a new level of product placement by getting red cups festooned with some of the logos of its popular carbonated beverages on the judges’ desk.

The unique advertising structure of the program was initially devised by Jean Rossi, a longtime Fox ad-sales executive who wanted to hook clients on “Idol” when the musical-competition concept was popular overseas, but foreign to U.S. sponsors. Fox sold season-long arcs that kept popular advertisers on board for multiple episodes, and was able to secure bigger support from different kinds of sponsors  – by keeping rival brands out of the program. When Fox launched a similar program, “The X-Factor,” in the fall of 2011, it sold shorter sponsorship “arcs” that allowed the network to bring more advertisers into the show over the course of a season.

Sponsoring “American Idol” likely will not be cheap. In the 2011-2012 TV season, the average cost of a 30-second ad in the Wednesday-night of “American Idol” was a whopping $502,000. As the show got older and ratings began to sag, the barrier to entry got lower: A 30-second spot in the same broadcast in the 2015-2016 season came to just $151,245, according to Variety’s annual survey of commercial prices.

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