Showtime Hopes to Cash in With Native Ad Campaign for New Show 'Billions'

WSJ Custom Studios Produced Effort in Partnership with Showtime and OMD

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Malin Akerman as Lara Axelrod, Damian Lewis as Bobby 'Axe' Axelrod, Maggie Siff as Wendy Rhoades and Paul Giamatti as Chuck Rhoades on the new Showtime series 'Billions.'
Malin Akerman as Lara Axelrod, Damian Lewis as Bobby 'Axe' Axelrod, Maggie Siff as Wendy Rhoades and Paul Giamatti as Chuck Rhoades on the new Showtime series 'Billions.' Credit: James Minchin/Showtime.

It's often said that we're living in a golden age of TV. Beyond the viewers, the beneficiaries include the media companies that have been tapped to create native advertisements for TV's ambitious new shows.

To promote the upcoming series "Billions," about the high-stakes world of hedge fund financiers, Showtime and agency OMD decided to link up with a titan of financial journalism: The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ Custom Studios, the Journal's content marketing division, on Friday debuted a multi-faceted native advertisement for the show that includes text, audio, and video components, as well as a quiz.

The show, starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti, starts Jan. 17. (The season premiere can be watched as part of the advertisement.)

The studio produced a similarly ambitious campaign for the Netflix show "Narcos" in September; Trevor Fellows, the Journal's head of global ad sales, called that campaign a major success.

"It blew the metrics we anticipated out of the water," he said. "It really did so much better than we thought."

The "Billions" campaign, called "Gaming the American Dream," took roughly two months of work, Mr. Fellows said. He declined to say how much the Showtime deal was worth.

The splash page for the native ad promoting 'Billions.'
The splash page for the native ad promoting 'Billions.' Credit: WSJ Custom Studios

Mr. Fellows told Ad Age that WSJ. Custom Studios recently inked two more ad deals for major TV shows -- one streaming, one linear. He called TV ads "a booming part of our business at the moment."

One of the two shows is far removed from the worlds of finance and economics, unlike "Billions" and "Narcos." He said that's a good thing.

"It's really good to see that we're not being pigeonholed that way," Mr. Fellows said. The ads will debut in April or May.

Overall, Mr. Fellows said the Journal's studio executed about 100 native ad projects in 2015 -- though they're still tallying up that figure.

"It's really growing fast for us," he said.

The New York Times, for its part, has run elaborate native ads to promote the Netflix series "Orange is the New Black" and "House of Cards." Netflix also previously tapped The Atlantic's in-house marketing shop Re:think to promote "House of Cards" with a presentation on presidents and their wives, and hired Wired to create a sponsored feature about streaming video called "TV Got Better."

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