Audi Drives Ad-Free ‘Closer’

Apr 25, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Turner Broadcasting System’s TNT will launch “The Closer”-its first new original drama series since “Witchblade”-commercial-free, with automaker Audi of America as its prime sponsor.

Audi is spending an estimated $2 million to $3 million to present the premiere episode of the series, which stars Kyra Sedgwick as a CIA-trained cop who is an ace at obtaining confessions.

The automaker will advertise heavily on TNT in the two weeks leading up to the June 13 broadcast. It will also be featured exclusively in the large-scale marketing effort Turner plans to mount to drive tune-in for the show.

“There will be no question that this is sponsored exclusively by Audi,” said Linda Yaccarino, executive VP and general manager of Turner Entertainment ad sales and marketing.

After “Law & Order” ends at 9 p.m., a message will appear saying that the following presentation of the premiere original series is exclusively sponsored commercial-free by Audi. And during the program, an on-air graphic will read: “You’re watching ‘The Closer,’ presented commercial-free by Audi.”

Sponsor logos on TNT.tv will direct viewers to Audi’s Web site for more information about its cars.

Ms. Yaccarino said that for this year’s upfront, TNT and TBS have been extolling the virtues of moving beyond the basic 30-second spots. She said that when Turner pitched Audi, the automaker liked the fact that it was the first time TNT would present a high-profile property commercial-free.

“It was a discussion that started about exploring ways to get our advertisers out of a commercial pod and communicating their message in a unique way to our audience, who is their customers,” Ms. Yaccarino said. “We want to give our clients something they can’t get everywhere else and be able to say something uniquely.”

“We like it because it’s an integrated opportunity, and the content is very much such that would appeal to the Audi mind-set,” said Mary Ann Wilson, marketing communications manager for Audi of America. “It’s a sophisticated drama series whose main character the Audi persona can certainly relate to.”

In the series, Ms. Sedgwick’s character tends to rub her male colleagues the wrong way with her aggressiveness. “I would call her driven,” Ms. Wilson said. “I guess it depends on whether you’re a male or a female.” She added that she thought that viewers would appreciate Audi for allowing them to watch the show without commercials.

“We think there’s a positive rub-off on the Audi brand,” she said.

Both Ms. Yaccarino and Ms. Wilson declined to say how much Audi spent for this opportunity.

“Audi has been a client of ours,” Ms. Yaccarino said. “They happily are a bigger client of ours now.”

“The Closer” is produced by the Shepherd/Robin Co. in association with Warner Bros. Television. It is executive produced by James Duff, Greer Shepherd and Michael Robin.

While the show is TNT’s first traditional original drama series since “Witchblade” was canceled in 2002, the network has continued to pursue scripted programming in recent years. In addition to telefilms and miniseries, the network aired limited series “The Grid,” starring Julianna Margulies and Dylan McDermott, last year.

Upcoming original fare includes Steven Spielberg’s limited-run project “Into the West,” due to debut June 10, and “Wanted,” a series about elite crime fighters and starring Gary Cole, which premieres July 31.

The presentation of “The Closer” marks the first commercial-free premiere of a series on TNT. But as networks look for more ways to offer unique opportunities to advertisers, uninterrupted broadcasts of high-profile shows are happening more often. Last season, Fox offered the season premiere of “24” without commercial interruption. That broadcast was sponsored by Ford, which ran a long-form ad before the show. That ad was one of the most recalled ads in the automaker’s history.

FX has also been running shows commercial-free. The debut of “Rescue Me” was presented commercial-free by Miller Beer. Last season’s premiere of “Nip/Tuck” was sponsored commercial-free by XM Radio. The season finale of “Nip/Tuck” was also presented commercial-free by Stacker II.

A sponsor has to do a lot of advertising to make up for what is anticipated to be a highly rated new show running without ads. Ms. Yaccarino declined to say whether Turner made more money this way, or by running spots. “We’re doing just fine,” she said.

After the premiere, Audi will not be a title sponsor of “The Closer.” “It will be on our list of programs to advertise on,” Ms. Wilson said. But after a six-month period in which Audi introduced three new models, the automaker will be out of flight after the premiere episode.

Perhaps in the future, viewers will see Ms. Sedgwick driving an Audi during the show, but not this season. “We’d certainly love it and the Turner folks are starting to look at that more as an opportunity for advertisers as they move forward,” Ms. Wilson said.

Ms. Yaccarino said that other advertisers have bought smaller sponsorship positions in the show, and that it is almost sold out for the season.