Cable networks are flipping the script: instead of beefing up their advertising pods with even more ads – something viewers are rejecting in favor of streaming and other methods of TV watching – they’re taking out the ads all together.
It’s an experiment that several cable networks have tried this winter, reports Adweek. In December, Syfy offered viewers an early commercial-free premiere of its new original series, The Magicians, based on Lev Grossman’s best-selling novels. In January, TBS took a page out of streamers’ books and debuted its goofball new comedy, Angie Tribeca, in a 25-hour binge-a-thon, although ads from sponsors such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Intuit’s Turbo Tax did play between episodes. And WGN America skipped the ads in both of its big winter premieres: Outsiders in January and Underground on Wednesday, March 9.
“We’re obviously an ad-supported network and our advertising partners are really important to us, but for me, nothing is more important than the shows launching successfully,” Matt Cherniss, president/GM, WGN America and Tribune Studios, told Adweek.
Cherniss said the network weighed “the short-term experience of how much money you might generate off one episode of television versus the long-term of keeping an audience involved and getting them hooked on a show to the extent that they’re going to come back for weeks two, three, four and beyond.”
It’s the same approach used by the streaming networks, so cable networks figure why not give it a shot, especially since the old ad-based is proving itself less and less effective as more premium, commercial-free programming becomes available.
There are other examples: On Feb. 29, National Geographic Channel premiered documentary He Named Me Malala without ads, with just sponsor Geico airing a spot prior to the film.
Considering the amount of commercial-free, premium programming that’s now on the air, this move doesn’t seem that radical but prior to The Magicians, the last time an ad-free episode aired in primetime in either broadcast or basic cable was in 2012 when NBC previewed its comedies Go On, starring Matthew Perry, and Animal Practice, starring Justin Kirk and an adorable monkey, during the Summer Olympics. Neither of those shows went on, so perhaps the experiment was considered a failure, or at the very least, not worth trying again anytime soon.
This time around, however, the bets seem to be paying off, with both The Magicians and Angie Tribeca renewed for season 2 and Outsiders debuting as the most-watched original series in WGN America’s history, averaging 3.9 million viewers in live-plus-same-day viewing, according to Nielsen.
Brief Take: It’s long been predicted, but the age of the 30-second spot finally seems to be dying off, to be replaced by native advertising, brand-integrated advertising or no advertising at all.
Read more: Adweek