FX Lures Ad Dollars to Cable

Mar 28, 2005  •  Post A Comment

FX’s upfront pitch to media buyers includes a chance at a part in one of its original programs.

The unusual offer will be made as the network touts a promise of fresh shows for 52 weeks.

Those shows were developed under FX Networks President and CEO Peter Liguori, who last week was named president of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting.

Bruce Lefkowitz, executive VP of ad sales, entertainment, for Fox Cable Networks Group, will also assure buyers that the network is poised for a breakout year.

The network’s award-winning shows are validating Mr. Liguori’s attempt to build FX into the HBO

of basic cable, Mr. Lefkowitz said, adding, “I have no reason to believe next year isn’t going to be better, and it’s a by-product of his vision and hard work.”

During a series of individual meetings beginning this week, Mr. Lefkowitz plans to highlight the 10 original series the network will air next season. The presentation uses the theme “Break on Through” to highlight that the network has scored with viewers, critics, awards and finally advertisers.

Despite the racy reputation of “The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck” and “Rescue Me,” Mr. Lefkowitz said, 103 advertisers have purchased spots in FX originals, which should defuse the notion that edgy content is making it hard to sell time on the network.

He expects upcoming shows to be hits too. On tap are Steven Bochco’s “Over There,” about the Iraq war; Morgan Spurlock’s documentary series “30 Days”; “Thief,” starring Andre Braugher; and comedies “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Starved.” An unannounced reality project and another comedy are also in development.

Mr. Lefkowitz said the originals are generating reach for the network because only 25 percent of the viewers of a show like the hit “Nip/Tuck” also watched the lead-in program. “That means we really are a destination,” he said.

Giving media buyers an opportunity to win a walk-on part in one of those shows “reinforces our message,” he said. “Hopefully it will increase attendance. They have 65 of these presentations to go to.”

In addition to pitching programming, FX will also tout the integrated marketing opportunities it offers. The network began several programs last year and will be able to show concrete examples this year of how well they worked.

Branded Interstitials

FX has produced branded interstitials for clients such as Diageo, Jack Daniel’s, Anheuser-Busch and Mike’s Hard Lemonade that buy several million dollars’ worth of ads on the network. The vignettes tell stories that involve an advertiser’s product. One for Jack Daniel’s features the chief distiller taking viewers on a tour of the plant. Another, for Mike’s Hard Lemonade, features guys in a bar talking nonsense while enjoying the product.

“It’s a little bit of a break that’s different from a commercial,” Mr. Lefkowitz said, “but obviously there’s product on the bar.”

Another piece of branded entertainment produced by FX was a post-premiere show following the first episode of “Rescue Me” that featured Miller Beer.

The network also does “launch nights,” in which a product sponsors an entire night of programming, with billboards and interstitial programming airing throughout the event. Marketers including Dodge, General Motors, Jeep, Boston Beer, T-Mobile, Mazda, Warner Bros., Anheuser-Busch and Mitsubishi have participated. “And a lot of that was new business,” Mr. Lefkowitz said.

These special advertising offerings run outside of original programming and the network limits the supply to keep their value up. “These can’t become the billboards of today,” he said. “It ties in to our theme of `Break on through.’ This is another way to break on through clutter, to break on through traditional commercials.”

Mr. Lefkowitz said he expects the cable upfront to be similar to last year’s, when networks rang up 16 percent gains. But he thinks the overall television market is going to be flat to slightly down.

“What you’re going to see is another shift [of dollars from broadcast to cable]. How great that shift [will be] is dependent somewhat on the economy,” Mr. Lefkowitz said. But with more high-rated original programming on cable, he said, “There’s a real compelling reason to move money.”

He added that with a weak overall scatter market following last year’s strong upfront, more advertisers may decide to hold back money from this year’s upfront. In scatter, FX’s costs per thousand have risen, which augurs well for the upfront.

“I hope they continue to,” he said, adding, “I hope that viewers continue to see our value. We’re feeling good about letting our results speak for themselves.”