For a network that prides itself on comedy with a twist, it's not surprising that IFC also has been shaking up the standard upfront meetings this year.
As Vanessa Benfield, svp of advertising sales, and evp of marketing and digital media Blake Callaway make the rounds with media agents and clients, they've replaced the typical upfront sizzle reel with one starring puppets Mario and Fafa from YouTube sensation Glove and Boots, IFC's new branded-entertainment partners. In the reel, the puppet duo tout IFC's "responsible rebels"—the former Independent Film Channel's target audience since it rebranded in 2010 and went ad-supported—who, they proclaim, are "not hipsters" because "they have good jobs, they pay the bills, and they don't stink!" Put another way, "They're successful, they're discerning, and they like the good stuff."
And that increasingly means IFC's quirky blend of comedies like its signature show Portlandia—a satire set in Portland, Ore., starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. The network has seen four years of double-digit growth among adults 18-49, with 2014 up 18 percent over 2013. "Growth like this is uncommon in today's cable landscape, when the new norm is flat or down," said Benfield.
Now, IFC—which is owned and operated by AMC Networks and available in 73 million U.S. homes across all platforms—is continuing to expand and offering advertisers plenty of opportunities for product integration. Between its comedies, in-show, around-show, event programming and digital offering "it's a pretty big buffet to choose from," said Callaway, "and what we're saying is we're going to work with you to put your brand's story in the middle of this environment."
That starts with Portlandia, which has already been renewed for two more seasons. (Season 6 will debut in early 2016.) Subaru cars have been written into sketches, and the show has also partnered with Zillow for in-show integration. IFC's popular scripted talk show Comedy Bang! Bang! offers a variety of integrations for brands like Cheez-Its, Motorola and Kayak. And there's more on the horizon:
- The Spoils Before Dying, Will Ferrell and Funny or Die's follow-up to last year's The Spoils of Babylon, will premiere in the third quarter. The latest adaption of an Eric Jonrosh novel—the fictional author is played by Ferrell—features a jazz singer (Michael K. Williams) wrongfully accused of murder, and also stars Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig.
- American Documentary (working title), also due in the third quarter, is "the show that the channel is most excited about," said Benfield. From former SNL stars Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Seth Meyers, all of whom are executive producing and starring in it, each show of the six-episode series will spoof a different documentary. "Documentaries are having a moment, and we have our version," said Callaway. "This will be our Jinx."
- New comedy Gigi's Bucket List, which IFC ordered as a series today, stars David Krumholz, disguised under heavy makeup, as a grandmother whose husband passed away and unexpectedly left her $3.2 million. Now she's using the cash to cross items off her bucket list. While Gigi interacts with real people a la Borat and Bad Grandpa, "it's not mean-spirited at all," said Benfield. "It's a fun and clever way to do this."
- The return of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, which last aired on IFC in 2012, "was a Netflix thing, just a resurgence in popularity of the show on Netflix," said Benfield, "and David Cross had a tremendous desire to do the show again, as did Will Arnett." The premise: The original series—in which Cross, an American who knows nothing about sales or British culture, accepts a job running the London sales team for an energy drink—was all a dream, but it starts to play out again. And Cross tries to avoid making the same bad decisions (like blowing up the world).
- Benders, a comedy executive produced by Denis Leary about a group of guys who play intramural hockey, will debut in the fourth quarter.
- IFC is partnering with College Humor for Comedy Musical Hall of Fame, a faux induction ceremony devoted to celebrating—and spoofing—musical satire. Yes, "Weird Al" Yankovic will receive a lifetime achievement award.
- IFC is also developing Start Making Sense, executive produced by Ben Stiller, about a father trying to connect with his son who's a YouTube sensation.
As it moves away from airing the independent films that gave the network its original name—its slate now includes mainstream favorites like Ghostbusters, Jurassic Park, The Matrix and Mission: Impossible—IFC is unveiling new ways to liven up those airings. There's If I Was in It, which started as part of its Comedy Crib digital series and features two film critics from Staten Island talking about how famous films would play out differently if they were starring in them. "We think it's a really clever way to wrap a film," said Benfield.
There's also Unboxing the Holidays, IFC's version of a "holiday stunt," said Callaway. A film airing on IFC will be unboxed, much like the famous YouTube videos in which toys and other products are unboxed on air, and four brands have already expressed interest in getting involved.
IFC is also pushing Comedy Crib, its online site for more than a dozen short-form comedy series from people like SNL's Vanessa Bayer and Kate McKinnon. "Comedy does come in all shapes and sizes, and we were looking for a place to have a farm team and have some great comedy," said Benfield.