Looking at Sarah Palin's Latest Sponsors

Tuning In: Brian Steinberg on the Changing TV Industry

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Palin's promotions: You'd think former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin would be too divisive a figure to attract mainstream advertisers. You might crack that the only marketers likely to consider sponsoring a TV show about her would be a gas-and-oil concern (she has advocated for drilling in Alaska) or an early-pregnancy test (her daughter, "Dancing with the Stars" contestant Bristol, has run into challenges with her ex-boyfriend after getting pregnant).

Sarah Palin's Alaska pulled in many mainstream advertisers.
Sarah Palin's Alaska pulled in many mainstream advertisers. Credit: TLC/Gilles Mingasson
Would you be incorrect? You betcha!

A bevy of mainstream advertisers lined up to support the debut of "Sarah Palin's Alaska" on Discovery Communications' TLC channel Sunday night. Our bet? Damping down Ms. Palin's political agenda and leavening her personality with nature trips and a little family soap opera worthy of any venerable reality program helped keep concerns about polarizing and partisan talk at bay.

Among the marketers whose commercials appeared during the debut were Progressive Insurance, Lowe's, J.P. Morgan Chase's Chase bank, Procter & Gamble's Febreze, Sun Products Corp.'s Wisk, T-Mobile, LG Electronics, Hallmark Cards' Crayola and Blue Buffalo pet food. To promote "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," 20th Century Fox ran a longer-than-normal ad offering a preview of the film -- and buttressed it with other ads and promos during other parts of the program.

Marketers have been known to shy away from outright political grandstanding -- witness some past reaction to Fox News' Glenn Beck -- but TLC kept such chatter to a minimum. Sure, Ms. Palin alludes at times to her thoughts on immigration and national defense, and displayed increasing ire at a journalist neighbor who watched her from next door, but the show placed its main spotlight on the Palin family's trips into the wild to see bears, go fishing or climb mountains. And it mixed those elements with a little family angst, including a teen boy's efforts to get upstairs in the Palin's household to pay a visit to another Palin daughter.

"Today's" chatter: Time was, morning-news shows like NBC's "Today" would focus solely on those events and items that appealed to the widest possible audiences -- big interviews with newsmakers, chats with the principals in human-interest stories that captured the nation's gaze. Yet today (no pun intended), the A.M. TV mainstay announced it is devoting a week to segments about viral videos.

The whole idea behind viral videos -- whether they be of cats getting killed in cars or a two-minute spoof of rich people rapping about iced tea-flavored alcoholic drinks -- is that they appeal to a narrow slice of the populace, who then (hopefully) start talking about it and make it interesting to a larger segment. But for every "LonelyGirl" sensation, there remains a good chunk of folks who still won't know what you're talking about when you reference something that breaks big online.

So it's interesting that "Today" thinks it may have found big-ratings gold in spotlighting web content that likely will have little, if any, meaning to a good chunk of its audience.

Don't get us wrong; it's clear that online video -- viral or otherwise -- is gaining traction, as demonstrated by The New York Times' recent decision to start a weekend column looking at web-based entertainment. It's worth keeping in mind, however, that these videos will never have the mass impact of, say, an episode of "The Love Boat" in the 1970s. The media landscape is too fractured and content increasingly draws slices of the world at large, rather than the entire globe. We'd like to see how many people in "Today's" audience recognize the viral videos that will be discussed, and how many are just seeing them for the first time and decide to start a new wave of chatter about them, increasing the narrow band that gets fascinated by such stuff.

Tuning In is an ongoing series of commentaries by Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg on the TV schedule, the ads it carries and changes within the industry. Follow him on Twitter.

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