In Depth

Glenn Beck's TheBlaze Tests Live Commercials -- Other Ideas in the Wings to 'Transform Advertising'

By Jeanine Poggi
Advertising Age

Glenn Beck's fledgling cable network, TheBlaze, will test live commercials this week as part of an effort to keep viewers during breaks and counter ad-skipping via DVRs.

Four live 90-second commercials will air during Mr. Beck's evening show each night starting Monday, to be followed by another test the week of April 29.

"We want to redefine advertising by bringing the ideas and concepts behind radio and original TV advertising to TV today," Mr. Beck said in an email. "Live, in-program advertising benefits our viewers by entertaining them, and benefits our advertisers by most effectively sharing stories of why their products and services are so beneficial."

Mr. Beck already reads ads live on TheBlaze, an approach that's common on the radio, and that inventory is sold out for the year, according to the company. The new tests will present live ads that more resemble TV commercials, with visual components that could include product demonstrations or employee interviews as well as the logo of the advertiser. Mr. Beck may or may not take part in the conversation, the company said. The network is working with the test's 10 advertisers -- which include Liberty Safe, Blinds.com and TV Guardian -- to develop their creative approaches.

TV networks have been experimenting with different forms of TV spots as it becomes harder to get viewers to watch commercials. The results episode of "American Idol" on Fox last week included a commercial break that accompanied ads with live camera feeds from the "Idol" stage, backstage and the audience. It seemed to be the first time the "double-box" format, which has been used during some sports broadcasts, appeared in an entertainment series.

TheBlaze has other ideas in the works to help "transform advertising," Mr. Beck said, including taking viewers behind the scenes as advertisers create their products in weekly mini-documentaries.

"There's a concern that standard commercials are not driving sales and are a speed bump for programming," said Joel Cheatwood, president and chief content officer at TheBlaze. "There's a universal concern over the drop-off in audience during the commercial breaks. We wanted to find a way to keep viewers engaged where you don't lose the audience and they are paying attention to the advertiser's message."

Solutions such as live commercials, however, actually harken back to earlier eras in TV. "We were reminiscing about how advertisers use to sell products -- relying on trusted individuals, whether it was Johnny Carson or Edward R. Murrow, to present the product," Mr. Cheatwood said. "There's a level of trust and you never lose contact with the key person of the program."

TheBlaze began as a digital video subscription service -- originally called GBTV -- in September 2011 after Mr. Beck departed Fox News. It says it has 300,000 people paying for a digital subscription, which costs either $9.95 per month or $99.95 per year. Its website got 132,000 unique video viewers in February and 831,000 video views, according to ComScore.

Last year Dish Network also began offering TheBlaze to satellite TV subscribers who bought its "America's Top 250" package of channels or paid an extra $5 per month, and the network has also lined up distribution on smaller pay-TV operators such as Blue Ridge Communications and Sweetwater Cable Television. It declined to say how many homes its TV network is available in; Dish has roughly 14 million subscribers, although not all of them receive TheBlaze.

Liberty Safe executives hope the live commercials will help connect viewers' trust in the program with its own products, said Jamey Skousen, marketing director at the marketer. The novelty should also help attract attention at first. "The natural inclination of viewer will be 'Hey, what are they doing... This is new,' and be inclined to stay and watch and see what it's all about," Mr. Skousen said.

"Program audiences are more likely to stay engaged as they see a spontaneous transition to something interesting, rather than the traditional ad break," he added. "Many viewers today often turn channels or get up off their couch during normal commercial breaks, but this new format increases the likelihood that they'll stay and watch."