IFC Stays ‘Uncut,’ Pulls In Sponsors

Aug 15, 2005  •  Post A Comment

IFC, a network with no commercials, has more than doubled its sponsorship revenue in the past two years.

The latest to sign on as a sponsor of IFC is Yellow Tail, the Australian wine marketer, which has never before advertised on television. Yellow Tail will sponsor IFC’s new Tuesday night film slate, dubbed “The Cellar,” which debuts Oct. 11. Teases for the Tuesday slate will begin in September.

Since rebranding itself as “tv.uncut” in January, IFC has stepped up its efforts to bring in sponsors, including forming a new Integrated Partnerships department headed by VP Alan Klein.

“The uncut experience doesn’t mean we’re anti-advertisers,” said Evan Shapiro, executive VP and general manager.

The rebranding, which stresses that movies aren’t censored or edited, has been good for business, boosting the network’s awareness and viewership, according to a recent study by Beta Research.

It has also made the network more attractive to advertisers. Mr. Shapiro said sponsorship revenue has grown to more than $10 million from less than $5 million two years ago. Other IFC sponsors include Heineken, Rockstar Games, Target, Volkswagen and Acura.

They want to reach IFC’s male-skewing, educated audience of tech-savvy early adopters, who are also the kind of influential people who spread the word about products. The network also works with studios who want to reach IFC’s film-loving viewers.

“Their audience is our audience. It’s the people you would go to for a film recommendation. We want you to go to them for a wine recommendation as well,” said Lily Volpe, senior brand manager at W.J. Deutsch, which imports Yellow Tail. The brand has been built on word of mouth, she said. “IFC is noncommercial, so it’s very true to our personality as well.”

IFC’s viewers are also likely to have DVRs, and Mr. Shapiro said that makes IFC something of a workshop in post-TiVo television for both programmers and marketers.

“Traditional forms of marketing are under threat,” he said. “If you can create an environment where people are going to watch the programming and the promotion, you’ve got an advantage.”

Working with sponsors, IFC’s marketing department, headed by senior VP Jennifer Caserta, produces short films that incorporate the marketers’ brands while at the same time telling viewers what programming will be on the channel that night.

“Two things that don’t get TiVo’ed are TV promos and movie trailers,” Mr. Shapiro said. “That’s our breaks.”

Mr. Shapiro said the network has not received any complaints about the sponsored messages. In fact, viewers have asked the network to let them know when some of the promos will be on so they can TiVo them.

“The promos have become programming,” he said. “When they’re asking you when your program is on, you know you’ve succeeded.”

Each sponsor provides the network with revenue of six or seven figures, some of which goes toward the cost of creating branded entertainment that runs during breaks on the network. The funds complement IFC’s primary revenue source, which is fees from cable affiliates.

Sponsor revenue is limited because while regular ad-supported networks have 90 to 100 breaks a day, “We’ve got 10,” Mr. Shapiro said. “We’re not going to take every retailer. We won’t take every beer company that comes to our door. We’re not going to take every wine company that comes to our door.”

Different sponsors are attached to various parts of IFC’s schedule.

Acura has been the sponsor of IFC’s “At the Angelika,” which was recently renamed “At the IFC Center.”

“Acura is looking for an upscale, independent alpha male,” said Chuck Bachrach, executive VP and director of media resources at the automaker’s ad agency RPA. He said IFC and “At the IFC Center” host Alison Bailes have been cooperative. Ms. Bailes has even driven an Acura in a promo, but the message stays organic and subtle.

“They keep within what they want to do and what we want to do,” he said.

Heineken is the official beer of IFC’s Friday night, which includes the network’s upcoming original series “Hopeless Pictures,” “Greg the Bunny” and “The Festival.”

Target has renewed its sponsorship of IFC’s “Cinema Red Monday” film block. The block is named after the DVD and home video section on Target’s Web site. “They’re coming back for another year and expanding their relationship into a couple of other programming areas,” Mr. Klein said. The IFC sponsorship is generating extra traffic to Target’s Web site. “They see this as a success,” he said.

Volkswagen sponsors IFC’s “Escape from Hollywood” block on Wednesday nights.