It’s not really a show, and it’s not really on TV, but Turner Broadcasting has signed two sponsors for Court TV’s “8 Day Mystery Challenge.”
“Challenge” is an online game being conducted by Court TV, which is looking at it as a new way to engage its audience, which is fond of puzzles. It’s also an example of the new approach to advertising sales since Court TV was acquired by Time Warner and merged into Turner Broadcasting toward the end of last year’s upfront.
Suzuki and Applebee’s have signed on as sponsors for the projects, and both are “integrated and woven throughout every platform,” said Linda Yaccarino, executive VP of sales and marketing for Turner Entertainment.
Under Turner, Court TV is planning big changes, including a rebranding and a new name.
Court TV’s ratings have been rising, with total viewership up 31 percent in the first quarter, when it was ranked 11th among all ad-supported cable networks.
The plot of the “Challenge” is that a woman’s husband is missing, maybe kidnapped, and she needs help from Court TV viewers to piece together clues to try to find him. The person who figures it out gets a reward of $25,000.
The challenge will be teased on Court TV for two weeks before it starts running June 4. Then clues will start to appear on air in interstitials, graphically in the bottom third of the screen during regular programming and even in the plots of some shows. That should keep viewers paying closer attention, even during commercial breaks, something that’s increasingly important to advertisers.
Players also will find clues on a Web site — savemyhusband.com — and receive them via e-mail on their cell phones.
“It is about evolving entertainment in every way, shape and form,” said Marc Juris, general manager of programming and marketing at Court TV.
“From a programming point of view, I am fascinated with the real intersection between online and on air,” said Mr. Juris. “We have an incredibly engaged audience that would probably like to participate in a mystery, so it was really a way to capitalize on what is becoming a phenomenon — that is, gaming.”
Ms. Yaccarino declined to divulge how much Suzuki and Applebee’s are spending on their “Challenge” buys, which includes a schedule of regular 30-second spots on the network. Both clients, however, were already Court TV advertisers and “we have grown their relationship significantly,” she said.
Media companies put these kinds of deals together for clients either to garner a bigger share of a client’s ad spending or to generate a premium ad rate, she said.
In addition, with Court TV now part of Turner, Suzuki and Applebee’s are benefiting from the greater resources of Turner’s marketing and promotional arm, which is a big part of its ad sales approach and its ability to mount multiplatform experiences.
When it was a scrappy independent, Court TV made a name for itself with big media buyers such as Starcom by stressing return on investment and making engagement guarantee deals that promised not only how many people watched the show, but that a high percentage of them would respond to the commercials.
While Court’s old strategy was “absolutely appropriate” to get some attention, that’s no longer as necessary, Ms. Yaccarino said. “We have such a huge base of clients for TBS and TNT that if during our meetings we say, ‘Give me 10 minutes and let me give you an update on Court TV,'” the network’s story gets told.
Turner continues to embrace Court TV’s approaches to ROI and engagement, but they will evolve, Ms. Yaccarino said. Asked about the Starcom deal guaranteeing engagement, which was renewed during last year’s upfront, she said, “What they’re looking for on an audience-guarantee basis has changed, and we are optimistic that our relationship will continue to get stronger and bigger and better.”
While Turner will sell Court TV together with TNT and TBS in this upfront, “We’re not looking to force-feed or package. And while we will strongly encourage folks to increase their spend on Court, it really has been not that difficult of an effort to do because of how strong Court is,” she said.
If the “Challenge” game is successful, Mr. Juris plans to do more projects like it.
“It will help us gauge how complicated we can make this. We have a feeling, pretty complicated,” he said.