Low Meets High: Wal-Mart Sponsors Ovation's 'Nutcracker'

A retailer with a "save money" message is linking with a highbrow network on a holiday promotion. Wal-Mart will serve as lead sponsor for Ovation TV's annual "Nutcracker" event -- where the channel offers multiple versions of the famed 1892 ballet.

Viewers will have a chance to vote for their favorite performance on the network's Web site, leading up to a marathon Christmas Day.

Before that, five widely varied productions will air next month in what's tabbed "Battle of the Nutcrackers - World Games." Those include a domestic "funky, irreverent" version -- along with ones from London, Monaco, Russia and Paris.

Wal-Mart's arrangement includes billboards leading into the broadcasts and a presence on tune-in, on-air promos. Ovation is airing the "Nutcracker" programming for the third year in a row, with Wal-Mart as a first-time top-line backer.

Ovation's senior vice president of sales Liz Janneman said the "Nutcracker" attracts a multigenerational audience, helping Wal-Mart during the holiday season.

Ovation, which relaunched in 2007, targets adults 25-to-54. Janneman said its average viewer lives in a home with an annual income of $95,000-plus.

The Wal-Mart arrangement came together in last summer's upfront, where Janneman said total sales increased significantly, although she declined to cite specifics. She did say new advertisers included Pfizer, Revlon, Chase and Dyson.

In 35 million homes, the network is unrated, but Janneman said its own research shows notable audience engagement. Research from firm OTX found ad recall, intent to purchase and ad likeability scores higher for an Ovation series with artist Jeff Koons than Bravo's "Real Housewives of Orange County" and Discovery's "Deadliest Catch."

With its emphasis on art and culture, Ovation has taken on a mission once embraced by A&E and Bravo -- before each shifted into attention-grabbing reality series. Janneman said those networks in their early days may have pursued a more niche appeal than Ovation, which is aiming to hit the sweet spot where high art -- music, architecture, fashion, etc. -- and pop culture intersect.

"A&E 20 years ago was much more limiting in how it defined art," she said. "The premise is the same, but the breadth and scope of it for us is a much broader appeal."

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