NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- With an audience of at least 90 million to 100 million expected to tune in, the TV network hosting the Super Bowl broadcast -- this year it's Fox -- gets an opportunity to spotlight its most popular products -- or the products it needs to make popular. While the network doesn't make soda, sneakers or mobile phones, it does have programs to push, from veteran "American Idol" to new entry "The Chicago Code."
Fox could have as much as four minutes' worth of time for ads for its shows, commonly known in the industry as "promos," according to Mr. Earley. The network will use its time to draw attention to "Glee," an episode of which will air after the Super Bowl ends, as well as other shows coming up during the week, such as "House" and "American Idol." New programs that will get the spotlight on Super Bowl Sunday include "The Chicago Code" and "Traffic Light." And Fox could raise eyebrows should it follow through on plans to offer sneak previews of two programs widely anticipated for the fall: "Terra Nova," the would-be blockbuster series about a family that journeys back in time to the prehistoric era, and "X Factor," the new singing showcase produced by former "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell.
"We understand the value of this," said Joe Earley, president-marketing and communications for News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting.
TV networks have been running promos during the Super Bowl for years. In a typical Super Bowl, 15% to 20% of all commercial time is a plug by the network for its own programming, according to ad-spending tracker Kantar Media. In 2010, the value of this air time exceeded $49 million, Kantar estimated.
Four minutes would actually fall far short of recent Super Bowl promo loads. Last year's game on CBS, for example, included eight minutes and 15 seconds of promo time for the network, according to the Kantar analysis of Super Bowl commercials. Networks can insert additional promos, of course, depending on the total load of Super Bowl advertising inventory and the flow of the game.
In recent broadcasts, executives at NBC, CBS and Fox have upped the ante. Once focused most closely on letting viewers know the day and time of a particular program airs, the networks are now getting more creative in how they approach these age-old pieces of hype.
CBS, for example, has sparked water-cooler chatter on two different occasions. In 2007, the network ran a promo for "The Late Show with David Letterman" showing the talk-show host and Oprah Winfrey watching the game on a couch; the surprise delighted fans. CBS raised the bar last year when it threw Jay Leno into the mix, just weeks after his prime-time show on NBC had been canceled and NBC said it would return him to late night, ousting Conan O' Brien in the process. Mr. Letterman had taken some verbal pot-shots at Mr. Leno on his show. That promo held its own against competing spectacles from Denny's, GoDaddy.com and even a Motorola spot featuring actress Megan Fox.
"You have a great opportunity" once every few years to promote programs to the much broader Super Bowl audience, said George Schweitzer, president-CBS Marketing Group. While networks will likely continue to run promos simply stressing a show's day and time, they will also at times push to show something more original that can make a splash, he said.
"Obviously the game reaches a massive audience so the value of the network's on-air promotion is significant," said Adam Stotsky, president-NBC Entertainment Marketing. "So for the host network, the stakes are high. Sometimes it may require special shoots."
In 2009, NBC ran promos that showed talent from the network's Monday-night programs singing the old chestnut "Feelin' All Right"; a visit to an office where people are suffering from "LMAO," or "laughing my ass off," because of the network's Thursday-night comedies; and a look at the cast of "Heroes" using their superpowers in a football milieu.
At Fox, Mr. Earley believes a new football-themed promo for "House" will get viewers talking. The promo for "American Idol" will feature a new piece of music that could surprise those who hear it, he suggested. A cross-series spot will shows members of the casts of several different Fox programs tossing a football, and a longer version of the segment will be available online, he said.
The effort can be a challenging one, said Mr. Earley. A TV network doesn't have the commercial-production budget of a big-spending marketer, yet the ads have to meet the raised expectations of the Super Bowl viewer.