Overmarketed to all their lives, Adult Swim fans know when to laugh

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It's midnight. You're a young adult insomniac looking for something to watch on TV.

How about "Pee-wee's Playhouse"?

That's probably a no-brainer if you're 30-something Josh Feldman. Earlier this summer he was promoted to VP-ad sales and marketing at Adult Swim. The late-night programming block of Cartoon Network in July added to its schedule reruns of "Pee-wee's Playhouse," which originally ran as a Saturday-morning CBS kids show in the late 1980s and early '90s.

The Adult Swim block began as a test about four years ago, and today offers 7.5 to 8 hours of programming every night except Friday. It's Cartoon Network's lure for a grown-up audience that offers marketing opportunities not easily available with kid-oriented fare.

18-34 demo key

"We skew about 65% male ... [but most] of our business is written on adults 18-34 and adults 18-49," Mr. Feldman said.

"We like to look at it as the [Adult Swim] name suggests: Kids out of the pool! And we turn it into a totally different network," said John O'Hara, senior VP-sales manager of Cartoon Network and Adult Swim.

With this opportunity comes a challenge-balancing young adults' jaded view of all ad pitches with their love of edgy new ideas in TV-watching.

Adult Swim's first and so far only product integration in a show occurred last year on "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," in which the Master Shake character shamelessly touted Boost Mobile. Subtle it was not. The show featured a Boost cellphone character as well as a gang of switchblade-brandishing Boost phones. Mr. Feldman said the idea came from the show's creators, not the ad staff or the advertiser.

"We always say this generation of fans of Adult Swim have been overmarketed to their entire lives. ... When we do market to them, we want it to stand out, we want to make them laugh and we want it to have value lasting beyond forcing something into an episode for a marketer's sake," Mr. Feldman said.

The 33-year-old Mr. Feldman has been married for three years, but when it comes to cable TV, he's a veteran. He rose to the VP title from sales manager at Adult Swim. Mr. Feldman started at Turner Broadcasting System 12 years ago with a sales job in its syndication unit.

"We knew he could do the [Adult Swim] job because of his sales background," Mr. O'Hara said, "but he was also a perfect fit for what Adult Swim is all about ... [Mr. Feldman knows] pop culture."

Adult Swim's video-on-demand offerings reach about 17.5 million homes, Mr. Feldman said. This summer its "Adult Swim Fix" broadband venture expanded to a 24/7 presence on adultswim.com. Shows can be streamed from the site, sometimes before they air on the cable network. Sponsors have included Honda and L'Oreal's Garnier; they get exclusivity on the "Adult Swim Fix" web page for periods ranging from a week to two months.

All these options on the Adult Swim menu-which also includes its first theatrical film, an "Aqua Teen" movie planned for 2007 release-haven't made Mr. Feldman's job harder. "It's made it more interesting," he insisted.

In the two years that he's been at Adult Swim, Mr. Feldman said, it has added 150 new advertisers. Cartoon Network overall was the No. 21 cable network in ad sales last year, with revenue up 10.8% to $305.2 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence. And Mr. Feldman noted: "Adult Swim is representing a larger portion of that pie each year."

Just Asking

Josh Feldman

Cartoon Network

"Aqua Teen" has three main characters-Master Shake, Frylock and Meatwad. Who's your favorite? Master Shake, easily. The writers wrote me into the episode [where Master Shake hawks Boost Mobile].

What was your favorite cartoon as a kid?

"Tom & Jerry." I couldn't get enough of it.
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