IFC: The Commercial-Free Cable Channel That Still Draws Advertisers

Skyy Vodka Is Latest Brand Lured by Movie Net's Integration Strategy

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NEW YORK -- For the last three years, Evan Shapiro has been heading a very exclusive cult, and is just about to initiate another member.
Skyy joins an exclusive list of marketers that sponsor their own nights of programming on IFC.

That member is Skyy Vodka, and the "cult" is IFC, otherwise known as the Independent Film Channel, Rainbow Media's movie network headed by Mr. Shapiro, the exec VP-general manager. Though Skyy will be making its first foray into TV advertising this weekend as part of the channel's Saturday night "Blue Room" lineup, IFC hasn't run a single commercial since its inception in 1994.

Festival-like environment

Instead of 30-second spots, the cable network helps create branded short films for its integrated partners, allowing for a more festival-like environment even if the viewer has never been to Sundance or Tribeca. Skyy is the latest addition to a brand team that includes Yellow Tail wine, Acura, Heineken, Red Bull and Target, each of which sponsor their own night of programming and earn the distinction of being the official IFC brand of their respective categories. This is where Mr. Shapiro's cult analogy kicks in.

"Advertisers are really skeptical because we're not rated and we won't show your commercial," he said. "But it's a cool buy -- we only pitch to clients we want to work with. They're not just part of the night, they're presenting and their content is being watched in the flow of breaks."

It's also a rare opportunity for marketers to get a piece of a highly passionate audience that traditionally lives on pay cable. "If you could buy HBO, you would," Mr. Shapiro said.

For Skyy, the branded films will speak to the assortment of "flavors" of the varied films it will sponsor each week. That way featured movies such as "Crash," "Kill Bill, Vol. 1" and "Being John Malkovich" will have a more seamless transition in between their airings that isn't interruptive, Alan Klein, senior VP-integrated partnerships and licensing, said.

"IFC has always been at the forefront of cinematic style and innovation," Paul Fuegner, VP-marketing for Skyy Spirits, said. "Skyy Vodka epitomizes cinematic glamour and this partnership creates an ideal platform for the premiere of Skyy Vodka's broadcast marketing efforts."

Partnerships in the retail space

The channel has also parlayed some of its partnerships into the retail space as well, creating an "IFC Indies" DVD section at Target stores last July. Mr. Klein said the IFC brand is analogous to the retail chain's use of designers Todd Oldham and Isaac Mizrahi to enhance its "cool" factor. "Target works for us, but we also know what brands won't fit."

Though the channel isn't Nielsen-rated, it also likes to get very granular with its audience research among its core viewers in the upper reaches of the 18-to-49 demo -- 70% of the channel's total viewership falls in that category. "Our viewers don't like advertising, so trust is almost more important than reach in our case," Mr. Shapiro said. "We're enormously credible to them. So when a new sponsor comes on board, we're saying, 'It's OK, he's with us.'"

Thus far, the integrated partnerships have been enough of a success for Target, Acura and Heineken to renew their partnerships for three years or more, with Mr. Klein hoping to secure a couple more categories in the coming months. But given the limited number of days in a week for a marketer to sponsor and the distinct lack of a commercial pod, he can afford to be choosy.

"Evan and I just get to go out and talk about the brand," Mr. Klein said. "IFC is all about finding content in context."
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