Comedy Central Will Replace a Full Ad Break Each Month With One of Its Branded Content Series

Zales-sponsored spot premieres tonight

As Comedy Central continues to ramp up its slate of branded content series, the network has decided to give those new short-form videos a big monthly linear spotlight.

Beginning tonight, Comedy Central will dedicate a full two-and-a-half-minute linear commercial pod each month to feature an episode from one of its branded content series in lieu of traditional ads. During tonight's 10 p.m. showing of 50 First Dates, the network will air an episode of its branded content series Handy, which feature the adventures of a hand model.

The Zales-sponsored Handy spot, "Lord of the Ring," will follow the hand model as he struggles to film the hand close-up for a beach wedding proposal featuring a Zales ring. After it airs on Comedy Central, the spot will be posted on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Comedy Central's website.

This is the second episode of Handy, which was initially called "Hand Job" when Comedy Central first shopped the concept during the upfront. The first Handy episode, "Erik Gets Crabs," featured an integration with Joe's Crab Shack:

As Viacom Velocity, Viacom's branded content and integrated marketing division, has worked closely with Comedy Central to increase branded content opportunities for marketers, the network suggested the linear pod takeover as a high-profile way to premiere them.

"It's a great way to launch it, to be able to go to a partner and say, we're going to premiere your content on-air, during primetime, and then immediately push it out across all of our screens, so we make sure we reach all our fans in all the places where they touch our content," said Chris Ficarra, evp, integrated marketing, Viacom Velocity. "This is branded content that the audience, who's used to getting marketed to, is really embracing in a different way, because it does feel more like genuine content."

Viacom Velocity and Comedy Central work together on the branded content spots. Each month will feature a different short-form series, and the pod takeover won't always occur on a Friday. "It's really going to depend on the actual content pieces themselves and making sure we put them in the right environment so they're received in the best possible way," said Ficarra. For example, if Comedy Central talent appears in any of the spots, those episodes would run during the network program that person stars in.

The monthly linear takeover comes as Comedy Central and Viacom Velocity expanded their branded content approach in the spring, creating a slew of new short-form series that it was looking to create in-house with a sponsor and distribute across multiple platforms.

In addition to Handy, Comedy Central has produced several episodes of Craft Services with Barak Hardley, in which artist and actor Hardley makes unusual crafts out of brands. Those episodes have included integrations with Pringles, Old Spice and Dunkin' Donuts.

The company has other branded content series in the works, including Chill As, which "puts some of our best Comedy Central improv talent inside what appears to be high-stakes, filmic scenes," said Beth Trentacoste, svp, creative director, Viacom Velocity. The first episode, Chill As: Hacking, with Ubisoft's Watch Dogs 2, debuted last month.

There's also Viralocity, about a fictional branding agency focused on helping celebrities and athletes make viral videos. Its first episode featured the Brooklyn Nets' Jeremy Lin and an integration with Lyft.

"That was a success for us. People liked it and shared it. The Nets themselves pushed it out, Jeremy Lin pushed it out on his platforms, and they have a pretty great fanbase," said Trentacoste.

Ultimately, Ficarra hopes that the takeovers will occur more frequently than once a month. "I'd love to see a day—whether it be show premieres or tentpoles—where we're creating content that's really seamless and organic to the show and can take fans from break to break, and really enhance that overall premiere experience," he said.