I watch a lot of TV. Maybe not the 150+ hours a month that Nielsen reported on average last year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I came close to that. And you know what? I don’t even own a TV set. (Thanks Hulu!)

But the other night I wanted to watch NBC’s Thursday night lineup live when it came on instead of waiting until the next day online, so I ended up at a friend’s house camping out on their couch, watching the first non-sporting event in months, in real-time. Could I do it? Would I survive the regular commercial breaks? Would I go insane without the 30 second countdown ticking away in the corner of my screen? Should we just pause the night for a few moments and then let the DVR take the ads (that so graciously paid for our programming so that we could watch it for “free”) and plow straight through them?

The latter won out of course, giving us a few minutes to stretch, chat, throw away takeout containers, and figure out why it was so cold in the apartment. But then, somewhere during one of the earlier commercial breaks of Community, something happened. As soon as my friend began forwarding through the commercial break, they stopped. And then they rewound. I thought for a moment that maybe NBC forgot the commercial break, because there in front of us were two of the show’s characters, chatting at a coffee shop. We both stared at the screen for a moment, and then my friend said, “Well played sponsors, I’ll watch your advertisement.” (Yes, in so many words, and out loud.)

I quickly found out it was, in fact, a commercial break. A commercial break that we were watching, nay- enjoying. (I’ve inserted the video above so you can check it out if you don’t watch Community… which you should. Just saying.) So anyway, somehow on the evening of January 21st, 2010 I ended up watching my first longer than 30 second commercial in a long time without wanting to my gouge eyeballs out. (I may have even laughed during it!) Turbo Tax didn’t waste their money on a minute-long spot. (I remembered the sponsor even!) And NBC managed to continue along their branding warpath during their paid sponsors. I’m pretty sure everyone ended up winning here, and I can’t say I would hate seeing this happen more often.

So why doesn’t it happen more often? Well it just might. As my friend Danielle pointed out in one of her blog posts (which you can here), networks are changing the way they look at demographics. I’d like to further add to this claim that they are not only doing a rework on their grasp of a now multi-dimensional viewing audience, but also the way they perceive synergy, especially with an evolving audience that has a short attention span and needs the message spelled out across multiple platforms quickly and effectively.

Earlier this week, Start With Why author Simon Sinek stated, “There are no such things as new ideas. There is only the recombining of old ideas to make them do something new.” In a sense, the TV industry is adopting this adage, creating new formats from old models. Although I don’t think we’ll see the likes of singularly sponsored multi-hour blocks like Kraft Television Theater again anytime soon (thanks to whatever remains of our joint objective conscience that demands programming which explores socially and politically controversial elements) I do think that in the coming months we will begin seeing a greater trend toward television powerhouses courting major sponsors and incentivizing their ad campaigns with cross-promotional branding and prepackaged multi-platform deals. Within this we will see the creation of promotional spots that are not only valuable to the networks in terms of synergy, but also make the network’s brand (in their own right) more valuable to the advertisers paying top-dollar for these particular placements.

Integrating a show’s talent is just one way to go about doing this; even though a studio or network may sweeten the deal with synergy, it’s also up to the advertisers to uphold their end of the new media bargain and further exploit the cross-promotion they’re paying for to their advantage. One of the simplest way of doing so starts with the show’s fans, seamlessly targeting them across the internet by using their favorite TV characters that they already relate with to introduce them to a product that they potentially aren’t aware of. In a sense, it’s going back to the “old Hollywood model”, utilizing the available voices (we already know, love, listen attentively to, and trust) to tell us about products that they endorse and love and why we should too (minus the advertisers having any major say over the creative voice of the content we watch.) Not only will this translate into the DVRs of homes around the globe (that will now give these advertisements a second look without realizing it,) but it will also have the potential to carry over into the online world, creating communication between the show, its advertisers, and its audience like never before. In short, what we’re looking at here is something that even ratings can’t provide, and that’s a sense of community (no pun intended!)

So Nielsen, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Advertisements