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Google Will Help Stephen Colbert Cut Commercials From ‘Late Show’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Stephen Colbert will have to do a little extra work tonight, thanks to an advertising deal struck between CBS and Google’s Nest.

During Tuesday evening’s broadcast of “The Late Show” on CBS, the late-night host will fill time that ought to be devoted to commercials with more of his own antics. And the ad-free segment will be sponsored by Google. Yes, that’s TV advertising in 2018: Google will advertise the fact that it is sponsoring a program segment during which commercials normally run, marking the first “Late Show” takeover of a regularly scheduled advertising break.

“The entry into ad pod takeovers featuring sponsored original content with ‘The Late Show’ is just the beginning,” said Jo Ann Ross, president and chief advertising revenue officer at CBS Corp. “We will continue to work with the show, and across all of our dayparts, to innovate and expand on what we offer our advertisers.” Colbert will introduce viewers of the sponsored segment to “More Show Presented by: Google’s Nest Hello video doorbell,” a nod to the search-engine giant’s connected-home unit.

CBS has for several years used its late-night programs to test advertising experiments. In 2018, however, new commercial formats could prove more important to catching Madison Avenue’s gaze.

Advertisers are showing new interest in tying themselves more directly to specific pieces of programming, rather than running the same 30-second spot again and again no matter the program in which it appears. Procter & Gamble, for example, earlier this year struck an ad pact with ABC that called for a specific plot to run in an episode of “Black-ish.”

The appeal of such stuff is growing as several media companies, including NBCUniversal and 21st Century Fox, talk about the concept of reducing advertising time during some of their most-watched broadcasts. To keep the same revenue coming in, the TV outlets will have to let sponsors lend financial support in bolder ways.

These types of ideas will likely be at play during TV’s annual “upfront” discussions, when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming programming season. The haggling is set to start in earnest in May.

Executing such stuff is easier to do in a late-night program. The broadcasts aren’t scripted months in advance. They are written just hours before the host takes the stage, ensuring that any commercial integration can be of the moment as well.

CBS has been aggressive in weaving commercials into both Colbert’s program as well James Corden’s “The Late Late Show.” Corden’s program features a bar on set that has over the years been sponsored by both Anheuser-Busch InBev and Heineken. And Corden has stitched Coca-Cola and McDonald’s into one of his signature “Carpool Karaoke” segments. For his part, Colbert has interviewed Nigel, an animated owl who hoots on behalf of Xyzal, the Sanofi allergy medication. In his debut episode in 2015, Colbert found a way to give a commercial nod to Sabra hummus, pretending to be under the sway of a piece of jewelry: “The amulet commands me to inform you of the delicious taste of tonight’s sponsor, Sabra roasted red pepper hummus,” he told viewers. “It’s made from simple, fresh ingredients that bring people together one bite at a time.”

Over the years, Colbert has developed a reputation for helping a select coterie of marketers gain attention. He and his production team occasionally work to embed advertisers into the show, so long as they hand him the reins. During his time on Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report,” the host made fun of Wheat Thins and a company memo dictating how the crackers ought to be depicted on TV.

CBS executives said they were open to doing similar segments with Colbert, and had been working with “Late Show” executive producer Chris Licht in setting the alliance with Google.

CBS wasn’t able to do as much along these lines when David Letterman was its main late-night host. Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants, owned both “The Late Show” and “The Late Late Show,” and his team wasn’t as interested in integrations as, say, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel has been. CBS now owns both late-night broadcasts and Google’s unique appearance this evening shows what can result.

This isn’t the first time CBS has embraced the idea of having advertisers deliver more content to viewers. In 2005, Philips Electronics paid CBS $2 million to be the sole sponsor of a broadcast of “60 Minutes,” giving ad time back to the newsmagazine that was used to run longer stories. At the time, Jeff Fager, executive producer of the series said he would consider doing such a deal “every week if I could.”

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