In a rare marketing move for NBC, Toyota Motor Sales USA will sponsor a commercial-free premiere of the network’s new computer-animated series, “Father of the Pride,” this week.
Before the start of the program at 9 p.m., NBC will run a 40-second to 50-second video clip describing the origins of the show, executives close to the company said. “Father of the Pride” is about the backstage lives of white lions in the Siegfried & Roy Las Vegas act. Toyota will sponsor the clip, receiving an on-screen identification. After the first episode concludes, NBC will run a two-minute trailer of future episodes and a Toyota-sponsored behind-the-scenes segment on the animation technology.
Industry observers pointed out the sensitive handling of the show comes in the wake of the serious injuries sustained last October by magician and animal trainer Roy Horn. He was attacked and badly mauled by one of the act’s tigers during a performance at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas. There was even some early speculation that the show would be scrapped, but both Siegfried Fischbacher and Mr. Horn, in statements, encouraged NBC to air the program.
“No decision on the sponsorship for the first episode was based on the accident,” an NBC spokesman said. “Toyota wanted to be part of something special, and this premiere was a perfect opportunity.”
The stakes were substantial. Billed as the first animated TV series with the quality of a feature film, episodes reportedly cost between $2 million and $2.5 million each. Much of the humor is more for adults than children. Voice talent on the DreamWorks production includes John Goodman, Orlando Jones and Cheryl Hines.
During its coverage of the Athens Olympics, NBC heavily promoted the commercial-free premiere. An NBC spokesman would only confirm the deal.
Nancy Hubbell, a Toyota spokeswoman, said, “We really liked the technology, and we thought this was a good show to reach the target audience [of] 18 to 49.” Toyota wanted to be involved with the show because of the CGI animation technology-a process that was used in such movies as DreamWorks’ “Shrek.” Toyota also made an upfront advertising buy for the series.
Toyota’s concern was for NBC to make it clear the show was an adult comedy-not for kids. “They’ll put a `TV 14′ up in the screen, and perhaps a disclaimer,” Ms. Hubbell said.
Toyota was not concerned that Mr. Horn’s accident will affect the show, she said. “That has been addressed by the show, and when they the tested it, the audience didn’t make the connection in a negative fashion.”
Toyota also inked a deal to be a major sponsor of NBC’s new reality boxing show, “The Contender” (TelevisionWeek, May 31).
While other networks, including ABC, Fox and FX, have presented commercial-free introductions of new shows over the past several years, this is a first for NBC.
NBC aired the theatrical movie “Schindler’s List” commercial-free in 1997 in a broadcast sponsored by Ford Motor Co. But advertising executives said that move wasn’t planned. Owing to the grim and serious content of the movie, media agency executives said NBC would have a hard time convincing advertisers to hawk products through TV commercials.
ABC made deals with mobile phone company Nokia for the commercial-free premiere of “Alias” in 2001 and with Johnson & Johnson for “Gideon’s Crossing” a year before. FX recently did deals for commercial-free sponsorships for episodes of a couple of its shows this year: “Nip/Tuck” (with XM Satellite Radio) and “Rescue Me” (with Miller Brewing). Additionally, Fox and Ford made a deal for the upcoming commercial-free season premiere of “24.”
CBS has aired The Masters golf tournament commercial-free, but that stemmed from an Augusta National Golf Club decision in light of the club’s controversial rules not allowing women to be club members. Others networks have aired commercial-free episodes of TV shows through Internet sites.
The idea for “Father of the Pride” was generated by NBC Universal Television Group President Jeffrey Zucker after he studied the success of DreamWorks’ blockbuster theatrical film “Shrek.” He called DreamWorks principal partner and co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg to see whether the studio could develop something similar for TV. Mr. Katzenberg said he has long been enamored with the Siegfried & Roy act.
Throughout the season, “Father of the Pride” will incorporate the product placement of major consumer brands, the logos for which will take on the animated look of the show.
Not all the product integration was carefully planned. In one episode, Siegfried & Roy go to a 7-Eleven in search of the convenience store’s Big Gulp drink-a scene in which NBC didn’t charge for the product placement.
Mr. Zucker has said the writers wrote in the convenience store on their own. “We are not getting money for that,” he said, “and it’s probably bad business on our part.”
In other NBC fall season marketing news, Best Buy and NBC are joining forces for a cross-promotional campaign through which free DVDs previewing NBC’s fall shows are being distributed at 600 Best Buy stores. This is in conjunction with the sale of “The Apprentice: Season One” DVD, distributed by sister NBC Universal division Universal Studios Home Video.