As Comedy Central puts the finishing touches on its star-studded upfront presentation later today, the network is also quietly expanding its approach to branded content, prepping a new slate of short-form series.
The network will approach the branded series—which will range from one to five minutes per episode and be created in-house and distributed across multiple platforms—the same way it develops its TV series.
The first episode, Craft Services with Barak Hardley, was released March 24, and the network has eight other shows in development. It will be part of Comedy Central's upfront push, which kicks off this afternoon as the network makes its pitch to advertisers and buyers at New York's Town Hall.
"We wanted to use insights and data that we gathered from our channel and our shows and develop a fans-first approach to develop series that we can bring our clients into, that we know our fans are going to love," said Chris Ficarra, svp of integrated marketing for Comedy Central.
That includes meeting with creators, talent, writers and producers early on to develop ideas for potential series and then taking those to market to find partners to sponsor entire seasons of the shows.
"We find that our biggest partners really want to be involved in the early stages of the creative process, and we see our best work come from that," Ficarra said. "No client wants to be 'insert here' or 'presented by' purely, and if we can involve them in the creative process, we find that collaboration to be so much tighter. And it helps with the end product, because they really see the genesis of the idea—why we feel like it works for our fans, why we feel like it will resonate across our multiplatform approach and how we can bring them in a really organic way."
This new short-form push was inspired by CC: Social Scene, the network's six-part YouTube improv series presented by Redd's Apple Ale that's currently in preproduction for Season 3.
In Craft Services, artist and actor Hardley makes unusual crafts out of brands—he turns the last Pringles potato chip in the can into a superhero, for instance. A 60-second spot has aired on the network, while extended versions will be available on platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Snapchat.
"We felt like his cross section of art and comedy were perfect for us and perfect for this snackable content that you see being so popular on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook," said Ficarra of Hardley.
One of the network's eight shows in development is Hand Job, which is about a hand model who's hired for commercials that require close-up shots of hands. Black & Decker was integrated for spec in a pilot Comedy Central is bringing to advertisers.
"Hand Job as a title might sound a little bit scary for a sponsor to come into," acknowledged Ficarra, "but if you get more than three seconds into the pilot, you see that it's the story of a hand model, which really gives us a perfect platform to integrate brands into the show."
The network has also prepped Sports? with Jessimae Pelsuo in which the comedian visits unique sporting events like outhouse racing in Michigan.
While Craft Services can have different brands for each episode, Comedy Central hopes to partner with companies for entire seasons of series. "For something like Hand Job, we could see that working for multiple brands," Ficarra said. "If we went to a company like a P&G or a Unilever, we could do multiple brands within their umbrella or we could go to different sponsors and roll them out."