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TBS After Big Bucks for Basic ‘Sex’ Run

Oct 6, 2003  •  Post A Comment

For TBS’s initial season of “Sex and the City” repeats, media agency executives expect the cable network to ask for a whopping $30 million from one major advertiser and $20 million each from three other sponsors. It’s the first time TBS has structured a series advertising deal this way.
TBS feels advertisers will pay a premium for the show because, as opposed to sitcoms coming off broadcast networks, “Sex” has been seen in only 28 percent of U.S. television households due to its origins on HBO.
“This is much better than a [off-network] sitcom,” said David Levy, president of entertainment sales and marketing and Turner Sports for Turner Broadcasting, who refused to discuss pricing but said the sponsorship would carry a high price tag.
“It’s not like this came from NBC or CBS and has been on for six years,” said Mr. Levy. “The property never had this opportunity. I can’t think of another sitcom with that kind of exposure, that kind of ratings, and no advertisers have been involved.”
Last week, Turner bought the basic cable rights to the half-hour HBO sitcom, which will have its premiere in June 2004. Turner will air two different episodes of the show back-to-back in a prime-time one-hour block at least once a week.
Starting in September 2005, the show will also air in syndication in nonprime-time dayparts. Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, a sister company of TBS, is the syndicator. Tribune Broadcasting stations have already signed up.
During its first season on TBS, which will run for 15 months, four major sponsors will buy the bulk of the advertising time. The top-level advertiser will buy four 30-second units in the hour block. Second-tier advertisers will buy three 30-second units.
If all goes according to plan, Turner will sell 13 of its 20 commercial units in each one-hour block of the show for its first season in the coming months, Mr. Levy said. The remainder will be sold in next year’s upfront and scatter markets.
In addition, advertisers will get promotional elements in vignettes, programming features, tune-in spots and licensing.
Mr. Levy is targeting such advertising categories as cosmetics, automotive, beverage, and entertainment for the major sponsorships.
A key issue has been the shows explicit nudity and rough language. But since the second season of the show, HBO has been shooting extra footage to replace any scenes that might offend the public or advertisers.
“We viewed it to make sure it still had its edginess,” Mr. Levy said. “Not only was it better, it was more creative. This is going to be an advertising-friendly show.”
Some media agency executives believe fewer viewers will show up if the content of the show drastically changes. “I like my porno unedited,” one veteran media executive joked. “Part of the show is the sex part. That’s what makes it a good show.”
Concerning a ratings guarantee for advertisers, Mr. Levy said, “That’s part of the discussion where I don’t want to get into the details. But we are not going to hurt any advertisers.”
Media agency executives were somewhat leery of the potential price tag-and of the content itself. “It’s a big number,” said Doug Seay, senior VP and director of national broadcast for Publicis & Hal Riney. “I just don’t know if it will do well on cable. No one thought `Law & Order’ would do well on cable, and it did.”
Though HBO has a smaller audience, viewers have a tendency to see reruns more often than viewers who watch sitcoms on the broadcast networks. That could hurt viewership.
“On the positive side, only 28 percent may have seen it,” said Lyle Schwartz, senior VP and director of media research for Mediaedge:cia. “But on the negative, those that have seen it have seen many repeats all along. So their proclivity [to watch] may be diminished.”