In the world of “The Walking Dead,” transforming from living human to undead zombie can take a matter of hours. AMC, the network that runs the show, hopes making an impression on the audience that tunes in for such stuff will take a significantly shorter amount of time.
AMC hopes advertisers in the zombie-apocalypse drama will bite down on the chance to run a stand-alone six-second commercial before each episode in the first half of the next season of the popular drama, starting with the series’ second broadcast of the cycle. “The Walking Dead’s” eighth season gets underway Sunday, October 22.
“Fans will appreciate the fact that it’s brief, and it’s highly valuable for the advertisers,” said Scott Collins, president of advertising sales for AMC Networks, in an interview. The network says the first minute of an original broadcasts of the series typically lures 10 million viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 each episode in a live-plus-three-day viewing window.
Madison Avenue used to hit a long ball of sorts, hurling an array of 60-second and 30-second spots at TV viewers, and hoping some of the information presented would stick. In recent years, some sponsors of the Super Bowl even tested commercials that were two minutes long. Now, AMC’s maneuver marks the latest attempt by TV networks to harness shorter stuff. Just as a haiku does not allow for a lot of expository prose, a six-second commercial needs to hit a single idea hard – and quickly.
“Six seconds seems to be a new format that people are more interested in than in the past,” said Collins. “It doesn’t work for everyone. It all depends on the advertising.”
AMC intends to present the short spot in the moment just before a fresh episode starts to run. It will not be part of a larger commercial break, and, because it airs just after the start time of the program, it is expected to be picked up by a digital video recorder. Viewer anticipation to see the latest episode of “The Walking Dead” will be high, explained Collins, “which makes this the most powerful and engaging six-second moment that you can buy.”
Others have been testing the short pitches on TV. Fox Networks Group has experimented with six-second ads in a recent broadcast of the “Teen Choice Awards” on the Fox broadcast network and during sports events like NFL games and the World Series.
The desire for attenuated commericals reveals the degree to which viewers of video have been affected by digital formats. Subscribers to Netflix don’t have to watch commercials. Adherents of Hulu or CBS All Access can pay for an ad-free version of those services. Users of YouTube may only have to see one ad or even no ads during a short session with the Google-owned video-sharing operation.
AMC’s Collins suggested a six-second ad might be sold for a price similar to that of a 15-second commercial. “The Walking Dead” is one of TV’s most popular programs, and its seventh-season finale snared 7.1 million viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 – the demographic coveted by advertisers – and 11.3 million viewers overall.
As such, the show is one of TV’s most expensive. A package of ads that runs across an evening’s worth of broadcasts on AMC is valued at about $415,000, according to Variety’s annual survey of primtime ad prices.
With commercial breaks viewed as interruptions, little wonder that TV networks are looking for new perches for advertising. AMC has for several seasons run commercials at the tail end of broadcasts of shows like “Better Call Saul” and “Walking Dead,” when viewers can catch previews of the next week’s episode. “Highly engaged viewers” refuse to miss such stuff, said Collins. AMC could expand the offer for the second half of the season and might make available a second isolated six-second spot, placed elsewhere during an episode.
AMC’s early effort – the network began pitching the concept earlier this week, Collins said – also shows the network getting creative when it comes to aligning Madison Avenue with its most popular series. Given the show’s milieu – society is ravaged by a disease that turns people into undead “walkers – it’s impossible to weave new gadgets and cars into the episodes. Who would make such things in a dystopia? The answer: No one. But advertisers will now get a strategically placed six seconds to remind “Walking Dead” viewers what they can offer in the real world, rather than a fictional one.