E! Takes Low-Key Approach to Pitching Brands on 'I Am Cait'

NBCU Cable Network Focuses On Telling Jenner's Story

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Caitlyn Jenner.
Caitlyn Jenner. Credit: E!

The debut of "I Am Cait" on E! this Sunday may be the biggest premiere yet for the NBC Universal cable network, but its executives haven't been aggressively pitching the eight-episode series to advertisers.

Rather than packing the show with extra commercial breaks, asking marketers to buy other inventory for the privilege of appearing during "I Am Cait," or otherwise squeezing every penny from the eight-episode series, E! has taken a low-key approach, ad buyers said. This isn't to say demand for the show hasn't been robust, according to buyers, just that NBCU's approach hasn't been vastly different than how it sells any of its lower-profile cable series.

"They want to do the right thing for the show and don't want advertising to overshadow the message," said Brent Poer, president and global creative director, Liquid Thread, Starcom MediaVest's branded content arm.

Instead of using Caitlyn Jenner's journey as a transgender woman to make a quick buck, E! may also hope the series could help lift its own brand, which is best known for the Kardashian franchise, from its status as a purveyor of tabloid-TV. "I think people are going to be surprised. This will be a far more emotional journey rather than a train wreck," Mr. Poer said. "The goal is to shine a spotlight on the issue and progress a cause."

Advertisers haven't had any qualms about appearing in the show, buyers said. The premiere episode of the series is sold out, according to a source close to the network.

"The level of public acceptance of this subject matter is much higher," said Neil Vendetti, exec VP-national video activation, Zenith, adding that it is much harder these days to find shows that get a big audience and a lot of buzz.

"It will of course be high-rated, but in addition, it will likely explode on social media and have a very engaged audience, something extremely desirable for advertisers," said Billie Gold, VP-director of programming research, Carat. "Unlike some other shows, this is not considered controversial but conversational."

An NBCU spokesperson declined to comment on the ad-sales strategy for "I Am Cait" or which advertisers will appear.

"I Am Cait" is likely to deliver one of the largest audiences E! has had for a premiere episode of a series, according to Ms. Gold. It will equal or surpass the 4.4 million that tuned in for the Kim Kardashian and Kanye West wedding special in 2011, she predicted.

Still, Ms. Gold said the premiere won't be as big as it could have been. "We now have all seen Bruce as Cait, first on the cover of Vanity Fair and then at the ESPYs and across the tabloids, so the so-called shock and curiosity value has been completely taken away," she said.

Ms. Jenner's transformation has already been a boon for media. Bruce Jenner's interview with Diane Sawyer in April pushed ABC's "20/20" to a 15-year high, with 16.9 million viewers tuning in the night it aired.

Vanity Fair's website hit more than 9 million unique viewers, the most in its history, when Ms. Jenner revealed herself as Caitlyn on the July 2015 cover. Then Ms. Jenner racked up a million Twitter followers in just four hours, topping the record previously set by President Obama.

And last week 7.8 million people tuned into the ESPYs on ABC to watch Ms. Jenner accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, more than tripling the awards show's ratings when it aired on ESPN last year.

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