Earlier this year, Spike and Comedy Central have collectively sold what it dubbed a "Man Block," combining Comedy's "South Park" and Spike's "The Ultimate Fighter," both of which air at 10 p.m. Wednesday nights.
The shows' combined ratings account for a sizeable share of the men 18-to-34 demo any given Wednesday. Just last week, for example, "South Park" and "Ultimate Fighter" garnered a combined 6% share of the entire men 18-to-34 audience on broadcast and cable. That percentage was eclipsed only by Game 5 of the World Series on Fox, which had 6.8%, according to Nielsen.
Spearheading the new sales initiative is Jeff Lucas, who serves as exec VP-ad sales for Comedy, Spike and TV Land. In order to simultaneously sell two shows on different networks, the ad sales and programming teams line up the commercial breaks for "South Park" and the first half hour of "Ultimate Fighter" as closely as possible so advertisers can run their spots simultaneously.
"We basically create this singular vehicle combining two networks that reach young men in high doses," Mr. Lucas said. "Advertisers now have the ability to shape their content and be unique and exclusive and creative and customized to the breaks."
Some advertisers are already using the Man Block to customize their ads on both networks. A new deal with Electronic Arts will feature three live-action theatrical trailers for its new video game "Need for Speed: Undercover," on Comedy Central next Wed., Nov. 12. During the same commercial block on Spike, EA will air a 60-second pod takeover to showcase a theatrical trailer different from the ones airing on Comedy. Spike is also creating two 15-second commercial vignettes to serve as tune-ins airing at the beginning and end of a commercial break.
Offerings extend online
The Man Block is digital as well, with EA debuting a home-page takeover on SouthParkStudios.com this Sunday, airing co-branded 15-second and 30-second spots before full-length episodes of "South Park." Mr. Lucas said this is the first time an advertiser has bought a takeover of the show both online and on-air to this extent.
Comedy Central is also cautiously optimistic about its resilience in a tough TV ad economy, as its biggest ad categories -- video games, movie studios, wireless and fast-food restaurants -- all happen to be the most recession-proof. The network's just-wrapped Indecision 2008 coverage of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report" scored each show its highest-ever ratings and brought in a collective $40 million in incremental earnings to Comedy, $30 million more than 2004's "Daily Show" coverage collected.
"If you want return on investment, really it means 20 different things to 20 different people right now," Mr. Lucas said. "You've got to go where you know the audience is watching and delivering product."