"Mad Men"'s financial tussle is way less mad than you may think.
The easy question concerning AMC's delays and changes concerning the show is this: How can you run a big-budget cable TV drama that has far less advertising revenues than many other cable dramas? Answer is: You can't.
According to Deadline.com and others, negotiations over AMC's four-year-old show are in a pickle over whether there should be more product integration in the show and at least two more minutes of commercial time.
The irony here is heavy.
In the pre-cable, pre-Internet, world, there were fewer big broadcast TV shows overall to run ads against -- so clients of the fictional "Mad Men" 1960s ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce would be happy to see more product placement and other ad messages on the existing shows.
Now, it seems that's not good enough for Matthew Weiner, the creator and executive producer of the show. A couple of years ago, in the last contract go-round, the main issue was the same as now: adding two minutes of commercial time, which would mean two minutes less of content.
The issue was resolved by letting the show run longer, which gave it more content time than other cable dramas. But now, if AMC gets its way, "Mad Men" will have added at least four more minutes of commercial time -- eight thirty-second spots.
Given the increasingly higher price of cable dramas, it makes sense that AMC needs to monetize its efforts just like a USA Network or TNT. But that was also the case four years ago when the show was starting.
"Mad Men" has already offered a number of integrated brand entertainment activities -- with BMW, Clorox, Canada Dry and others. Not only have real-life branded products/services been mentioned in the show, special vignettes have also appeared -- in a similar "Mad Men" '60s theme -- during non-content time. Unilever did this for six brands -- Dove, Breyers, Hellmann's, Klondike, Suave and Vaseline.
Some logic went into the theory that AMC was charging premium prices for this kind of association with the show. But obviously this was not enough for AMC, and to a certain extent "Mad Men" seems to have been running in deficit -- on someone's part.
Though the show is the TV's preeminent drama - on either broadcast or cable - having won multiple high-profile Emmy awards, its big umbrella marketing effect for all of AMC can only go so far.
AMC has a different profile than other ad-supported networks. It has a much more limited commercial load in its shows versus say USA or TNT. Many analysts believe it is more like HBO. Weiner pushes for more of that kind of drama -- having been a key writer on "The Sopranos."
I'm just wondering when this storyline "drama" over TV producers and advertisers will make its way into the show itself. Negotiations are probably too touchy at the moment. But look a few years out and you might hear some grousing by Draper about "commercial glut."