While most networks are encountering slow growth in ad sales, commercial-free IFC says it’s doing boffo business linking marketers to its independent film-loving viewers in other ways.
Tourism Australia has signed on as a marketing partner with the Rainbow Media-owned network, joining a roster that includes Acura, Heineken, Red Bull, Target, Volkswagen and Yellow Tail.
IFC will capitalize on the user-generated content craze by creating a short-film competition for Tourism Australia. The network will solicit entries and encourage viewers to vote for the best short. The winning film will air in March during an “Aussie Weekend” of movies from Down Under.
This type of marketing program is well suited to the IFC audience, which is full of early adopters who fast-forward pretty much through everything, according to IFC Executive VP and General Manager Evan Shapiro. The network averages just 10 breaks per day, compared with 110 on the average cable network.
“We’ve been able to adapt the environment to both make money and be interesting,” Mr. Shapiro said. Sponsorships are generating revenues well into eight figures, he said, up 225 percent from the seven-figure range three years ago. Kagan Research estimates that IFC’s gross ad revenues will be only $7 million this year.
Mr. Shapiro believes sponsorships and marketing partnerships are the future of television advertising.
“While it’s not the largest-grossing advertising model by any stretch of the imagination that’s out there, I do think that what IFC is doing is changing television marketing in a substantial way,” he said. “My friends at other networks will hate me for saying this, but the 30-second commercial pod, in my mind, is in its death throes. When you talk to marketers, they seem to realize that there have to be alternatives to consider. Using a noncommercially-supported television network to do advertising is a different way of looking at things.”
Other noncommercially supported networks, such as Sundance Channel, are ratcheting up their sponsorship efforts, but Mr. Shapiro said that doing it right requires that it not be done only from a profit-center standpoint, but from a programming standpoint also. “We never do anything that’s bad for our air, and as a consequence, it’s good for our brand and the client’s brand,” he said.
IFC creates the on-air content for its marketing partners. It also does research designed to show the brand awareness and return on investment that’s being generated. The research gives the network a good handle on what viewers will watch and what they’ll skip through, and what they’re most likely to watch are promos for movies and promos for television. And that’s what IFC creates for its clients.
The “Shorts Down Under” contest will be housed at IFC’s Media Lab, the online site where filmmakers can display their work. The only requirement for films entering the contest is that they use the Aussie tag line “So Where the Bloody Hell Are You?”
IFC and Tourism Australia will appoint judges who will select finalists that viewers will vote on online.
The top films will be shown at IFC events in New York and Los Angeles, and the winner will receive a roundtrip ticket to Australia to film a travelogue to air on IFC.
Mr. Shapiro said that Media Lab has become one of the most trafficked areas on IFC’s Web site, with 15,000 registered users. “It’s not like YouTube, which is half cats jumping into pools or Mentos being dropped into Coke. Yeah, it’s cool, but it’s not short film,” he said. “Our audience loves short films,” he said, noting that “Uploaded,” a show consisting of short films that launched on the channel in June, draws a bigger audience than most of the network’s other prime-time shows.