Understanding The Return of “Single Sponsor” TV Programming

Brendan Gill  | 

The convergence of TV and video has already created numerous opportunities for ad industry experimentation and innovation. The latest experiment comes from Fox, which earlier this month aired its popular “Family Guy” series with just a single sponsor, Playstation, and zero commercial ad breaks. Many in the industry will recall that the strategy of using a single sponsor has been around for several decades. But the return of this once-popular approach is inspired by changing circumstances, including new types of industry competitors and changing consumer viewing habits. What does Fox’s “Family Guy” experiment tell us about today’s fast-moving advertising environment? Here are three takeaways.

TV Advertising Is Evolving for the Streaming Era
One reason for Fox’s test is the growing success of streaming services like Netflix and HBO. As these platforms have gotten more popular with viewers, more ad-supported broadcasters have been looking for ways to deliver a similar ad-free or ad-reduced consumption experience for fans. Fox’s “Family Guy” experiment is only the most recent example. TruTV introduced reduced ad loads for all its programming at the end of 2017, while NBCUniversal committed to cutting its own linear ad programming by 10% for its fall 2018 TV lineup. It’s all part of a growing commitment from advertisers and broadcasters alike to deliver a more engaging viewing experience to consumers to match what they can access on streaming platforms.

Advertisers Want to Align with Tentpole Media Events
Fox’s “Family Guy” experiment is also symbolic of a growing demand from advertisers to align with unique viewing experiences and events. Playstation, the brand which partnered with Fox on the “Family Guy” trial, suggested that sponsoring Fox’s uninterrupted episode helped position the company as an innovator and trailblazer among competitors and consumers. “The more we are able to eventize media buys, the bigger impact we see to present PlayStation as a leader in gaming content,” said Asad Qizilbash, vp of marketing for PlayStation, in an interview with Adweek. The truth is that Playstation isn’t the only advertiser embracing such high-profile ad partnerships. There’s been growing demand in recent years for advertising during other “tentpole” live events like the Olympics, Super Bowl and Oscars.

New Audiences Demand a New Approach
There’s no question that millennials and Generation Z have become more important to advertisers. But as these groups become more critical consumer targets, advertisers and publishers increasingly recognize that their ad strategy to reach them requires a new approach. It’s exactly why Fox was willing to experiment with a new ad strategy surrounding “Family Guy,” one of its marquee shows targeting younger viewers. It’s also why Playstation was willing to try a new media approach that extended its ad campaign beyond the tried-and-true 30-second format. “This format, versus buying a 30-second ad unit, is appealing as it creates an event feel and offers a more unique approach on how we reach existing and new fans,” said Qizilbash to Adweek.

Fox’s single-sponsor experiment for Family Guy marks the start of a new era. It’s true that advertisers are likely to recognize the single-sponsor format, thanks to its long history with TV programming. But the reasons for its resurfacing, including the impact of streaming, a desire for more tentpole ad opportunities and the growth of new audiences, are all worth a second look. In fact, the rationale for returning to this longstanding approach seems to be anything but antiquated.

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