Making Ads Part of the Action on VOD

Apr 23, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Sportskool’s skateboard videos are as much about the sponsor as they are about the shredding.

The network’s current action sports block, which includes the skateboard videos, is sponsored by Jeep Patriot in a first-of-its-kind integrated sponsorship for the on-demand network. Sportskool is the sports instruction video-on-demand network from Rainbow Networks.

The automaker is sponsoring the network’s entire block of action sports programming, which includes skiing, snowboarding, BMX and streetball. But the skateboarding programming has the deepest level of integration of sponsor into content.

It also represents a big step forward on the ad-supported side of the VOD business and for Rainbow, which has been exploring how to cleverly weave sponsors into its VOD content for more than two years.

“This is the thing we have been talking to clients about for a long time,” said Dan Ronayne, general manager of Sportskool. “We think this will be the way forward for advertisers here that goes beyond 30-second spots.”

The Jeep deal also could be an interesting preview of how VOD advertising may evolve in the next few years beyond the traditional 30-second spots that have defined the medium. So far, most VOD networks sell 15- or 30-second ads that run in advance of the show the viewer requests. Some networks and advertisers have experimented with different ads. Last year, in a VOD buy across several VOD networks including Music Choice and Ripe TV, Cingular Wireless ran not only 30-second spots but also lower-thirds and additional graphic overlays.

The Jeep project with Rainbow takes that work a step further by building the truck into the content. Rainbow developed the ad campaign in conjunction with Jeep to promote the 2007 Jeep Patriot.

Blending In

As an example of how the integration works, a 5-minute video featuring pro skateboarder Mike Vallely opens with a 15-second intro that’s a commercial of sorts. But the commercial actually features the skateboarder, in a series of grainy shots, pulling up to a skate park in a Jeep, unloading skateboards and leaning against the big black car. As a result, the intro doesn’t feel like an ad. Throughout the 5-minute skate video, viewers see occasional “bugs” for Jeep or Jeep.com on the lower right-hand side of the screen, as well as graphic overlays of skateboarding facts presented by Jeep.

Twice Mr. Vallely drives to a new skate park in 1- to 2-second shots scattered in the video. He’s also seen leaning against the Jeep for a few seconds, and the video features a scene in which another skateboarder jumps across a sidewalk in a parking lot with the Jeep in the background.

The net result is a skateboarding video that clearly features a car as a strong supporting character.

This depth of integration has the potential to be off-putting to consumers, who are wary of too much product integration. However, the Jeep integration is folded into the programming in the background so it doesn’t feel intrusive, even though it is prominent.

Integrated sponsorships are likely to be the wave of the future, not just for VOD but for most ad-supported media venues, said Paul Rule, president of VOD research firm Marquest Research. “The traditional cluster of a half-dozen or so 30-second spots will ride off into the sunset,” he said. “Audiences are finding too many ways to dodge them.”

VOD is particularly vulnerable to these changes because it comes with built-in commercial skippability — the fast-forward button. That’s why seamless integration of the message into the programming is so important, he said.

“Anyone perplexed as to how to do this can go to the archives and check out TV and radio shows from the 1950s and before, when most were sponsored by a single advertiser,” Mr. Rule said.

Phil Summers, the VP of integrated sales and marketing at Sportskool, likens the Jeep integration to short films woven into the instruction. “It’s moments in Mike’s life where we talked about what’s important to him, what skateboarding means to him,” Mr. Summers said.

Sportskool is now found in 24 million VOD homes and is carried by Comcast, Time Warner, Cablevision and others.