Upfront Offerings Rife With Integration Opportunities

Networks Tout Brand-Friendly Shows Such as 'Lipstick Jungle,' 'Gossip Girl'

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NEW YORK -- Last week's broadcast upfront was unique to many media buyers on several key fronts, with shorter presentations, prominent discussion of digital properties and solutions for commercial ratings all appreciated by many. But also making a surprise appearance was another issue rarely touched upon during upfront weeks past: openness to brand integration.

Photo: The CW/KC Bailey
Kristen Bell stars in The CW's 'Gossip Girl,' a show that is brand-friendly right from the pilot.

Networks show brand acceptance
Mike Pilot, NBC's head of sales, got the week off to a brand-friendly start when he said, "Bring us your ideas, and we'll work with you to make them happen. We're all about experimentation." Later in the week, ABC showed buyers a clip of Geico's popular cavemen-turned-sitcom-stars; CBS presented a list of potential partners for new programs; and CW unveiled its commercial-free, sponsorship-based trend show, "CW Now."

The CW offering was so popular with buyers that MediaVest had snapped up all the sponsorships by the next afternoon for a client list that includes Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble, Kraft and Masterfoods.

Laura Carracioli-Davis, exec VP-director of entertainment, Starcom, said it's not often that the broadcast networks offer their new shows so prominently to advertisers.

"Typically we can only get brands into the reality shows and the mediocre programming," she said. "NBC was very aggressive and very open to talk to the creative community this year."

Online integrations for 'Lipstick Jungle'
At least one new NBC show has an attractive property for marketers looking to get a piece of a network's online offering beyond pre-roll and banner ads. Midseason drama "Lipstick Jungle" will premiere in January with an online version of the show's Bonfire magazine, with marketing opportunities galore.

Jordan Bitterman, VP-media director at Digitas, said he liked the idea of an "art imitating life" scenario playing out online. "The idea of creating a 'Larry Sanders'-esque offshoot and turning that into a digital property ... I'd like to see more of that."

The CW has something similar with its "virtual Upper East Side" for "Gossip Girl," its fall teen soap from "O.C." creator Josh Schwartz. The show's site will allow users to virtually tour the various hotels, restaurants and other upscale locales frequented by its privileged characters. And T-Mobile is already onboard for the show's pilot, which features a key plot point involving a lost Sidekick.

"For the right brand going after that audience, ['Gossip Girl'] is something that's going to make a lot of sense," said John Swift, managing director of PHD.

Alternatives for brand engagement
With the verdict on commercial ratings still in limbo -- Nielsen's minute-by-minute commercial ratings arrive May 31, while media-buying agencies such as Starcom are equipped to measure ads second by second -- alternatives for brand engagement are spreading like wildfire from the broadcast nets.

"Brand-friendly shows have become more important than they used to be," said Michael Kassan, founder and chairman of Media Link and former president of Initiative Media Worldwide. "In the past you'd say [the networks were] sponsor-friendly for [pod] bumpers, but that's become a more important part of the creative process. You see it happening in the digital space ... but more and more there's been a direct dialogue between brands and networks."
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