Big-Buck Suitor Wed to ‘Army Wives’

Apr 23, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Lifetime’s biggest advertiser, Procter & Gamble, is giving the network a vote of confidence by sponsoring the channel’s upcoming series “Army Wives.”

“Army Wives” is an important series to Lifetime. The women’s network has been having trouble getting its original shows to stick, and ratings and revenues were down last year after a dispute left the channel off EchoStar Communications’ Dish Network for a month.

“They’ve had a couple of less-than-stellar development cycles, and now they’ve got some things in the works that really look good, that really signify an upturn for the network,” said Brent Poer, senior VP, connectivetissue, MediaVest USA, the media agency for P&G. Connectivetissue is the agency’s branded-entertainment unit.

Mr. Poer worked at Lifetime back when it was the top-rated network on cable. Since then Lifetime CEO Carole Black has retired and been replaced by Betty Cohen, and former WB programmer Susanne Daniels has come in as head of programming.

After getting off to a slow start, “This is the first really good programming that we’ve started to see that signifies the type of quality that’s going to resonate with their viewer,” Mr. Poer said.

Kagan Media also is projecting a bit of a turnaround for Lifetime. Ad revenues fell to $536.5 million in 2006, but should rise to $581.6 million in 2007, exceeding the $575.4 million it took in during 2005, Kagan said.

In the first quarter, Lifetime ranked No. 5 in total viewers among ad supported cable networks, according to Nielsen Media Research. Total viewers were up 3 percent in the first quarter, offsetting part of a 10 percent dropoff during 2006.

Family Drama

“Army Wives” stars Kim Delaney and Catherine Bell in an ensemble drama about military families. Procter & Gamble will be the only advertiser in the premiere episode June 3.

That premiere episode will air with just four minutes of commercial time, compared to the usual 10 minutes of spots in Lifetime shows, said Mike Alvarez, VP of Lifetime Partnerships.

Premiering shows with limited commercial interruptions is becoming more popular in these times of clutter and TiVo. While Mr. Alvarez declined to say how much P&G is paying for the sponsorship, marketers generally pay a premium for shows with fewer spots because they tend to generate higher viewer engagement and commercial recall.

P&G’s Clairol and Cover Girl brands each will get a 30-second commercial. The rest of the commercial time will be devoted to a makeover of Elizabeth Castro from Stewart Manor, N.Y., a real Army wife discovered by MediaVest. Ms. Castro’s husband is serving in Iraq. She had a baby while he was away.

The makeover is a part of the “Next Stop New You” series P&G has sponsored for four years during Lifetime’s Friday night movie. The three-part interstitial — like the CW’s highly touted Content Wrap — is designed to help keep viewers tuned in during the commercial breaks to see how the makeover turns out, while at the same time promoting the company’s brands.

Mr. Poer says viewers “don’t mind a brand message as long it entertains and informs. It’s when it’s clunky and over the top and too in their face that they’re turned off.”

The “Army Wives” makeover also will promote the “Next Stop New You” makeovers on Fridays.

The premiere will be introduced with a message saying the show is being shown with limited commercial interruptions by P&G. The sponsor will be mentioned in tune-in spots as well.

“We really wanted to create something for the premiere to get the audience hooked on the show, to do it with less of a commercial load and something more creative than the standard 30s, so that’s where P&G came in and really stepped up,” Mr. Alvarez said. “The feeling is not only is it going to help Procter, obviously, but it’s going to help draw in audience and keep them engaged without any loss due to a lot of commercial breaks.”

New-Media Plan

Lifetime also is ramping up its new-media efforts to push “Army Wives.”

A preview will appear on Comcast’s video-on-demand system a week before it airs on Lifetime. P&G will have a pre-roll ad before the program. P&G also will be the sponsor when Lifetime streams the show on LifetimeTV.com beginning May 20. It’s the first time Lifetime has streamed a complete show online.

The second episode will be streamed the day after its June 11 airing. (After the premiere, “Army Wives” will carry a normal commercial load, and P&G will be one of the advertisers.)

Lifetime’s site also will feature broadband content sponsored by P&G. Some will be behind-the-scenes footage featuring the actors in the series. There will be profiles of more “real” Army wives anchored by Tanya Biank, who wrote “Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives,” the book upon which the series is based. The site also will feature a glossary of army terms using video.

P&G will sponsor broadband video of the “real” Army wives makeover.

“Army Wives” is part of what Lifetime hopes will be a big summer. Also on the schedule are “Side Order of Life,” with Marisa Coughlan and Jason Priestley; and “State of Mind,” staring Lili Taylor, from the producers of “Nip/Tuck.” Both shows premiere July 15.