That kicked off last week with the debut of the reality series "High School Reunion," which, as its title suggests, brings together a group of Texas classmates more than 20 years after graduation. The series debuted to 426,000 viewers in the network's target demo of adults 25 to 54, a 105% increase in its time period. This week, a new cast member joins in the form of Classmates.com, the series' integrated sponsor both on-air and online.
A natural fit
The website, which links old high school colleagues, regards the show as an opportunity to inform viewers of its evolved brand message. Greg Ott, senior VP-marketing for Classmates.com, said, "In some respects it was natural for Classmates, especially as we're refreshing our brand and updating what we stand for. We're definitely looking for contextually relevant ways to reach our targeted audience. We're becoming more about staying connected with people every day, and part of that is our reunions, which are our bread and butter."
Jeff Lucas, exec VP-ad sales for MTV's entertainment networks, said the conversation with Classmates began in the development phase for "High School Reunion" over a year ago and eventually evolved to its current state. Classmates.com has not traditionally been a big spender on TV, because the majority of its spending is on -- and its traffic ultimately driven directly from -- online advertising. As a result, the word "multiplatform" was essential to executing the deal's terms. Not only will Classmates.com be featured in the show and in commercial interstitials, TV Land will have ads for "High School Reunion" on the Classmates home page as well.
"Unlike most other deals, when we define 'multiplatform,' we mean multifaceted in terms of production of customized content that has a call-to-action on both ends," Mr. Lucas said. "It's rare you see that. You'll see things measured on Classmates.com and how an increase in traffic on Classmates.com can be directly correlated to the show."
The multipronged "Reunion" ad model is one that Mr. Lucas will be taking to the upfront for TV Land's upcoming slate of boomer-targeted new shows. Some of the slate was previewed at the network's first boomer-based upfront event, which featured a Q&A between TV Land President Larry Jones and the ultimate boomer himself, Bill Clinton.
Up next is "The Big 4-0," premiering April 16, which focuses on people achieving life milestones after making the supposed trip "over the hill." In June comes "She's Got the Look," a model competition for women over 35 for which the network has already partnered with Wilhelmina Models and Self magazine. And July brings the premiere of "Family Foreman," a reality series based on boxer-turned-grill-entrepreneur George Foreman and his brood of 10 children, 5 of whom happen to be named George.
"Branded entertainment isn't something we've been able to offer in-show before," Mr. Lucas said, pointing to the company's series of research pieces on the buying power of the 40- to 50-year-old viewers that comprise TV Land's target audience. "Before we were more of a channel-type marketing association [for that demo], now we're delivering them right in the sweet spot."
Mr. Lucas sees more opportunities for ad categories such as packaged goods, consumer products and automotive to get involved with TV Land's new programming and branded-entertainment packages. Ultimately, this approach will help set the network apart in a youth-crazed TV market. "With a lot of other networks, you're getting them in their formative years, trying to form what they buy and starting to determine their spending. But our demo will go and experiment because they can afford to. 'High School Reunion' made the first shot Larry Jones has delivered for our new approach."