The question of free will is the engine that fires AMC’s upcoming miniseries The Prisoner, a six-hour revisitation of the classic Patrick McGoohan series that left Brits clutching their skulls way back in 1967.
While it’s anyone’s guess how viewers will receive the ’09 version, advertisers aren’t likely to go into The Prisoner with any doubts about human agency. In a DVR universe, viewers have free will, and they’re exercising the hell out of it.
In the run-up to the Nov. 15 premiere of The Prisoner, AMC is rolling out a new pod-buster initiative that turns its “Madvertising” concept on its head. While the original execution led viewers of Mad Men into a showcase break by way of a contextually relevant factoid about the sponsor, the “Prison Breaks” execution uses clues about coming plot twists as a frame for a standalone 30-second spot.
For example, one Prison Break block leads off with a five-second bumper, in which Prisoner star Jim Caviezel spies a pair of ghostly skyscrapers rising out of a barren desert. A voiceover tells viewers to hold tight for 30 seconds, upon which more about the apparition will be revealed. An ad for the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX STI follows. After the spot concludes, a 10-second bump bookends the pod.
The Prison Breaks are designed to prevent viewers from churning away during the commercial pods, but they also direct the attention toward specific objects, occurrences or bits of dialogue that may be of singular importance as the miniseries progresses. “Certainly we want our viewers to engage with our sponsor messages, but we’re also looking to lead them through to the payoff,” said AMC president Charlie Collier. “A miniseries is a rare event,
and there’s a lot of substance to The Prisoner. It puts forth a lot of thorny questions, and the breaks are a way to focus on some of particulars of the story that are worthy of another look.”
According to Nielsen ratings data for the third quarter of 2009, AMC’s commercial-minute ratings are about 10 percent lower than its live-program deliveries. In other words, the network on average retains 90 percent of its commercial audience. While not spectacular, AMC’s C3 performance improved from an 88 percent retention rate in the first quarter of this year.
“As a movie network, we’re going to have C3 issues,” Collier said, adding that AMC’s original series Mad Men and Breaking Bad actually overindex on C3, with both posting a 107. (Mad Men also happens to be cable’s top-ranked show as measured by Optimedia’s “content power ratings” service, which gauges factors such as program environment and viewer involvement, as well as chatter on blogs and social networks.)
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