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Fox Upfront Kicks Off TV Ad Ritual; Remote-Free TV Reimagined

With Fox preaching stability in its lineup, its upfront presentation was reminiscent of last year’s.

The main thing upsetting the sense of déjà vu was that this year’s presentation at New York’s City Center and party afterwards at Central Park’s Wollman Rink were held on the opening night of the broadcasters’ upfront week instead of celebrating its end on Thursday, as in years past.

For TVWeek's comprehensive coverage of the upfront presentations, visit the Upfront Navigator page.

Jon Nesvig, president of sales for Fox, opened up the presentation by stressing the power of broadcast television to reach large numbers of consumers.

He segued into talk of Fox’s high ratings among higher-income families, drawn by series such as “24.” The audience for top-rated “American Idol” is getting more affluent, he said.

He also stated that while this has been a difficult year, Fox has not rolled back pricing on any of last year’s upfront deals, adding that upfront advertisers “maintained values versus short-term advertisers.”

Last year, Fox surprised buyers with its remote-free TV plan, which featured two series—“Fringe” and “Dollhouse”—airing with about half the number of commercials that traditionally appear in series.

Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said the remote-free TV concept is not coming back with an individual show, but that the network does plan to have special episodes with lower commercial loads.

Mr. Reilly said Fox already has several such special episodes planned for November and he invited advertisers to sign up for them.
“We’ll devise a remote-free episode on any series for you,” Mr. Reilly said.

Sponsors in the low-commercial-load episodes of “Fringe” found they got higher recall and brand recognition, he said.

However, Fox may be narrowing its application of the concept because, even with prices that are as much as 40% higher than in normal shows, the network found it hard to made as much money with remote-free TV.

Mr. Reilly said the network had other plans to retain viewers through commercial breaks with what it is calling “Alive Air.”

“Family Guy’s” Seth MacFarlane has created a series of interstitials called “Table Talk” designed to keep the commercial breaks lively. “Table Talk” features Mr. MacFarlane’s characters sitting around discussing such important topics as foods that sound like something sexual, like kumquats and fish tacos.

The network also asked advertisers to support a special scavenger hunt as part of marking the 20th season of “The Simpsons.” Characters will pop up in interstitial breaks, promo spots and other series. Viewers can participate in an online sweepstakes.

Another integration opportunity described by Mr. Reilly involves a live cooking show with Gordon Ramsey. The network will tell viewers what ingredients to buy and Mr. Ramsey will help them create a three-course gourmet meal in real time.

“It’s a great sponsorship and integration opportunity,” Mr. Reilly said.

Harry Keeshan, executive VP for broadcast at media buyer PHD, said remote-free TV had been a good concept and the Fox’s new proposals for keeping viewers tuned in during breaks were “worth looking at.”

As for Fox’s programming, Mr. Keeshan said he thought Fox had a winner with its new series “Glee.”

“It’s right on the right spot,” he said.

He thought Fox was doing a smart job in trying to build its freshman shows “Fringe” and “Lie to Me” into bigger hits and he said he “loved” Fox’s plans for midseason.

(Editor: Baumann)

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