To Drum Up Interest in The Magicians, Syfy Makes the Premiere’s Ads Disappear

T-Mobile to sponsor commercial-free sneak peek of new series

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Syfy has come up with a nifty magic trick to promote its upcoming fantasy series, The Magicians: during a sneak peek of the show's first episode next week, the network is making all of the telecast's ads disappear.

The network confirmed it will air the premiere episode commercial free on Dec. 16, more than a month before The Magicians' official premiere on Jan. 25. (That and all subsequent broadcasts will have the usual ad load.)

UPDATE: T-Mobile, which will be the season-long sponsor of The Magicicans, will also sponsor the Dec. 16 sneak peek, running a 10-second ("Brought to you commercial-free by T-Mobile") spot before the episode airs. That will be the extent of T-Mobile's presence on Dec. 16; there won't be a second spot after the episode or an on-air bug during the broadcast. 

Syfy said the sneak peek is the first commercial-free airing of one of its entertainment properties in recent history. It's also the first time an ad-free episode will air in prime time on any broadcast or basic cable network since 2012, when NBC previewed the pilots of two short-lived sitcoms—Go On, starring Matthew Perry, and Animal Practice—during its Summer Olympics coverage.

Lev Grossman, who wrote the hit fantasy trilogy the series is based on, made the announcement this morning on Twitter.

Described as a Harry Potter for adults, The Magicians tells the story of grad student Quentin Coldwater (played by Jason Ralph) who is tapped to attend the secret Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy in upstate New York.

This is the latest attempt by Syfy—and its parent company NBCUniversal—to pursue nontraditional methods to get audiences to sample its new shows. On Nov. 23, Syfy debuted the first episode of its upcoming series, The Expanse, on VOD, TV Everywhere and multiple digital platforms, three weeks ahead of its Dec. 14 premiere. That mirrored NBCUniversal's successful prelinear strategy for USA's Mr. Robot earlier this year.

"We would be really naive if all we did was schedule for a linear channel," Bonnie Hammer, chairman of NBCUniversal's Cable Entertainment Group, told Adweek last month. "We have to be willing to take risks, to fail forward and to experiment with letting several episodes—maybe even an entire season—go on VOD before it goes simultaneous with linear. We have to give ourselves permission to define success differently because it can't be in a linear rating."

The Magicians is part of Syfy's efforts "to get back to its roots," according to Hammer. "They are moving away from their alternative-reality shows and getting much more info fiction, both high cost and lower cost," she said.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.