'Project Runway' Sponsorships Could Unravel With Network Shift

Brands Will Return for Season Five on Bravo but With Move to Lifetime Planned, Deals Could Change

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- There's no doubt the departure of "Project Runway" from Bravo will be closely watched, and not just on TV, when it makes the official move to Lifetime in November.
Project Runway
Photo: Bravo

A Bravo spokesperson confirmed all of Season Four's integrated sponsors, including Bluefly.com, will be returning for Season Five.

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In addition to the high-profile lawsuit NBC Universal filed April 7 against the Weinstein Co., the show's producers, a sponsorship war could be afoot as well. Because Weinstein Co. owns the rights to the show, all the negotiations for the show's sponsorships go through the company, not the network. That said, a Bravo spokesperson confirmed all of Season Four's integrated sponsors -- Elle Magazine, L'Oreal Paris, Alberto-Culver's Tresemme, Saturn and Bluefly.com -- will be returning for Season Five.

Who will stay?
But come November, the network switcheroo -- if it goes through -- effectively puts into play all of those sponsorships, several of which have remained intact since the inception. Elle, L'Oreal Paris, Tresemme and Saturn have all been involved since the first season, but have the right to leave once the show switches hands.

A Saturn spokesman told Ad Age, "We're definitely a major sponsor of Season Five, which is in production and will run on Bravo this fall." He could not confirm their plans for the move to Lifetime.

A spokeswoman for Tresemme had the same response. "We have the right of refusal for Season Six," she said, confirming the hair-care company's continued involvement with the current season. "It's still very fresh news. The discussion hasn't even started yet."

Executives for L'Oreal Paris and its media-buying agency, Zenith Optimedia, could not be reached for comment.

Spotlight shifts
And now that "Runway" is more firmly in the hands of Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the show's oft-rotating retail sponsor could also be a source of contention. Banana Republic, the inaugural retail sponsor, left after two seasons, allowing Macy's to step in. But the national retailer bailed after Season Three when, according to a New York Post report, Harvey Weinstein tried to shoehorn a representative from his DVD partner, Wal-Mart, into the season finale. The show is currently sponsored by Bluefly.com, which Bravo confirmed will return for Season Five.

On the editorial side, "Runway" may even have to find a new magazine partner if Elle decides not to come back -- not to mention a new judge if Elle editor Nina Garcia goes with the title. An Elle spokeswoman did not immediately return calls for comment.

No matter who returns for the move to Lifetime, the sponsors are likely to be paying a significantly larger amount than they did at Bravo. Steve Weinberg, a partner at Greenberg Glusker in Los Angeles, who was not party to the "Runway" suit, said, "There's an awful lot of people who have a lot of money that have been attached to this show -- especially people attached to Bravo from the beginning. Certainly they'll want to [re-evaluate] the benefit of their sponsorship over the years, being changed dramatically as it is here. Giving competitive sponsors an opportunity to take recognition of all the goodwill that's built up changes things, too."

Reports valued Lifetime's five-year deal to be worth more than $1 million per episode, compared with the $600,000 Bravo paid. According to TNS Media Intelligence, advertisers spent a total of $20.9 million on Season Four, which ran from Oct. 1, 2007, to March 31, 2008. That means a sponsor such as L'Oreal, which spent $911,000 on the show during that time period, could have a deal that goes well into the seven figures if it re-ups with Lifetime, which will need $30 million a season to recoup its deal with the Weinsteins.
Top Ad Spend on 'Project Runway' from Oct. 1, 2007, to March 31, 2008
No. Marketer Amount
1 Procter & Gamble $1.026 million
2 General Motors Corp. $945,400
3 L'Oreal $911,800
4 News Corp. $530,000
5 Bluefly.com $444,800
Source: TNS Media Intelligence

Paying its way
The integrated sponsorship model is becoming just as big a moneymaker for reality shows as it can be with scripted series. By comparison, Bravo's second-largest reality series, "Top Chef," minted Bravo $26.8 million in ad dollars during the second and third quarters of 2007, its third season, according to TNS, with sponsors like Glad Products, Toyota Motors and Evian integrated into the proceedings. That show's bigger ad haul is largely because Bravo is able to negotiate all the "Top Chef" sponsorships in-house, as opposed to the Weinstein Co. deal with "Runway."

(Also for comparison's sake, at broadcast sibling NBC, the brand-friendly reality show "The Biggest Loser" brought in $45.6 million in ad dollars from Oct. 1 through March 31, while a top-rated scripted show like "Heroes" brought in $60.6 million in fourth-quarter 2007.)

Whatever the terms end up being, both Lifetime and Bravo are thinking fast about how to position their revamped offerings for advertisers going into this year's upfront. Lifetime has already begun its upfront meetings with advertisers, with former OMD TV buyer Debbie Richman in tow as its new sales chief, and will present its new programming to the press April 14. Bravo will follow the next morning with a breakfast presentation at Craft, one of several New York restaurants curated by "Top Chef" host Tom Colicchio.

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Contributing: Jean Halliday
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