FX gets creative with commercial time

Network producing custom creative to up the appeal for both viewers and clients.

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.

Movies are FX's secret sauce, accounting for roughly 75% of the channel's programming hours, but execs know that 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.

In "Spider-Man 3," Kirsten Dunst's character struggles to open a wonky door. On FX, this scene segues 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, senior vp integrated and emerging media at 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 might be the ideal environment for this sort of execution because 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 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% 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 might go a long way toward reducing churn.

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

As FX continues to snatch up such hot titles as "Avatar" and "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 revenue this year, up 45% from 2005. In the teeth of the recession, the network last year boosted ad sales dollars by 10%, according to SNL Kagan.