Turner Lets Marketers Buy Shows Rather Than Networks

New Plan Offers Ad Time By Male Demographic, Show

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Time Warner is trying to extract some testosterone from its general-entertainment cable networks in an effort to please advertisers who say they are increasingly interested in swinging for powerful niches, not broader masses.

Under the new plan marketers could purchase time during specific pieces of programming that skew toward men, such as 'Family Guy' on TBS.
Under the new plan marketers could purchase time during specific pieces of programming that skew toward men, such as 'Family Guy' on TBS.
At the entertainment conglomerate's Turner cable networks -- TBS, TNT, TruTV and Cartoon Network and Adult Swim -- executives are set this week to start touting a new plan allowing marketers to purchase ad time on a group of programs that pull a strong male audience. Turner will offer advertisers packages that allow them to go after men between the ages of 18 and 34 as well as those between the ages of 18 and 49.

The idea is to let marketers purchase time during specific pieces of programming that skew toward men, such as "The Office" on TBS; "Family Guy" on TBS and Adult Swim; "Operation REPO" and "NFL 360" on TruTV; and selected movies on both TBS and TNT, such as "American Gangster." TNT's NBA games can fit into the deals. CNN can also be woven into the mix if an advertiser wishes.

Includes digital properties
Turner's digital properties can be included, and the media outlet will also work with individual marketers to produce "microseries" and other pieces of advertiser-sponsored content that can travel across the various cable and web properties to help marketers make more of an impression. Turner has enlisted writer/producers Marc Abrams and Michael Benson, who have worked on HBO's "Entourage" and Fox's "The Bernie Mac Show" to help with the effort.

Turner's offer goes against the grain of how TV is traditionally sold. With exceptions, TV networks have predominantly offered advertising in broader fashion. For TV outlets, what show an ad accompanied was less important than ensuring that commercials filled the entire schedule. But marketers are demanding ways to go after specific slices of audience, often hoping to reach a smaller group defined by gender, income level or even interest in a particular product segment.

"The marketplace has changed," said David Levy, president-sales, distribution and sports for Turner Broadcasting System. Rather than just selling across a particular network, aggregation of "quality programming is acceptable," he said. "It's being used on the digital side. I don't think it's being used on the TV side too much."

Turner's effort "sounds like a change that is in response to what they have been hearing from their advertisers," said Mary Price, principal-brand media at Richards Group, an independent Dallas agency. "Everyone wants to buy a psychographic, a life stage. When they can offer me solutions that are really down on a more niche level, that becomes even more enticing."

From TV to DVR to DVD
The idea also gains more traction in a media landscape that has more TV viewers focused more on specific programs than the venue in which they are watched. An intense fan of Fox's "24," for example, could watch the show on Fox at a certain day or time, of course, but also might watch the show days later with a digital video recorder, or simply watch it on a computer screen or sample old episodes on DVD. Gaining methods to track the consumers as he or she follows a favorite piece of content becomes more important.

Turner's Mr. Levy notes that marketers who purchase online ads often work to aggregate specific types of consumers across a group of websites, and Turner's idea might help do the same on a different screen. "You take that premise of digital aggregation of demographics and we're applying it to our television business," he said.

Of course, Turner's male maneuver comes during one of the most difficult TV marketplaces in recent memory. Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, advertisers are holding on to their money very tightly. Answering demands that countermand the traditional way of selling commercials could lend the media company a point of differentiation, particularly as the upfront market, when networks sell the majority of their ad inventory for the coming TV season, moves fitfully.

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