Special FX: Net Taps Cinematic Sponsors

Perhaps it has something to do with their ability to at once repel and beguile, but there’s nothing a television audience loves quite so much as sociopaths.

FX has made its bones with a stable of antisocial personalities––not just the seething Vic Mackey types; every goofball on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is certifiable. But with its $600 million investment in crowd-pleasing theatricals like Avatar, the network is dialing down the crazy.

Movies are FX’s secret sauce, accounting for roughly 75 percent of the channel’s programming hours. And like someone suffering from a split-personality disorder, films have a polarizing effect on deliveries. On one hand, they can attract a much more diverse audience; on the other, they tend to lose viewers during breaks.

To make the commercial time in its movies more appealing to viewers and clients, FX has begun producing custom creative that shares thematic undertones with the surrounding content. In Spider-Man 3, Kirsten Dunst’s character struggles to open a wonky door. This scene segued into a two-minute Lowe’s-sponsored execution in which a handyman wielding a Kobalt tool kit demonstrated how to fix a recalcitrant hinge.

“We collaborate with the brand partner and the agency to create experiences within the programming environment that are contextual,” said Pam Henning, svp, integrated and emerging media, Fox Cable Entertainment Networks. “The creative always feels relevant, and it serves to extend the presence of the brand within the movie.”

Another recent execution paired X-Men: The Last Stand with the Samsung Epic 4G smartphone. This particular collaboration was shot on location at the Samsung Experience emporium in Manhattan. The spots included a number of beauty shots of the Epic 4G and gave viewers a crash course in the phone’s feature sets.

Movies may be the ideal environment for this sort of execution as research suggests that emotionally charged narratives offer higher levels of viewer engagement, which in turn helps boost brand recall. From a practical standpoint, it’s also easier to develop custom creative for use in something that’s already in the can.

“Production schedules for our series don’t always align with the upfront market,” Henning said.

Keeping viewers through the breaks is of particular concern to networks that traffic in movies. Per MagnaGlobal, networks lose 5 percent of the live audience during commercial pods in movies, putting the genre at the center of the bell curve. As such, tailor-made creative that alludes to the programming surrounding it may go a long way toward reducing churn.

“Customized sponsorships can work effectively if done correctly,” said Lisa Quan, vp, director of audience analysis, MagnaGlobal, adding that Turner has had success with a similar initiative, TVinContext.

As FX continues to snatch up hot titles like The Social Network, its client roster has swelled proportionately. Among those lining up for upcoming movie opportunities are Mitsubishi, Old Navy and Disaronno. “These were all zero-share accounts,” Henning said. “Traditionally they wouldn’t have done business with us.”

FX is on track to generate $936 million in total revenue this year, up 45 percent from 2005. In the teeth of the Great Recession, the network last year boosted ad sales dollars 10 percent, per SNL Kagan.