PBS' "Wine Makers" Offers New Ad Models In Noncommercial Setting

A new reality-competition series that might have landed on Bravo or the Food Network is coming to PBS. Producers are taking advantage of new ad models emerging on the "noncommercial," nonprofit network.

"The Wine Makers," a battle among 12 oenophiles for the chance to launch their own label, is slated to launch in 2007. Producers are promising national distribution on the 350-plus public-television stations, which they will have to secure themselves, since the national PBS arm isn't involved.

Top-tier sponsors are being offered a five- to 15-second spot before and after the half-hour show. So far, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, which promotes wine produced on California's central coast, is onboard. Producers are searching for up to three other marketers. A deal with a non-endemic advertiser is near, according to producer J.J. Levine.

The sponsorship model for "The Wine Makers" is reflective of the new PBS. The network has traditionally relied on underwriters and image advertisers, but with funding sources drying up and competition from cable--for viewers and differentiated content--intensified, bottom-line considerations are key. Pre- and post-roll spots are gaining traction as the inveterate "brought to you by" tags may be losing steam.

In addition to the premium-level sponsorships, "Wine Makers" producers--independent Doc City Productions, which has produced multiple wine-oriented shows, and South Carolina Educational Television--are offering branding opportunities on the show's Web site and other promotional tie-ins. PBS disapproves of paid product placement, a staple of competition reality series such as "Top Chef" on Bravo and "The Apprentice" on NBC.

The producers' main sell is the target audience. Wine lovers are upscale consumers who form a ripe target for high-end marketers in financial-services, computers and high-tech. Luxury travel and premium autos are also key ad categories. "The wine consumer and PBS viewer have similar demos," Levine says. "Their demographics are very appealing to anyone selling an upscale product."

PBS says its viewers are in line with the overall U.S. population. Its figures show that 38.7 percent of its audience has a household income of $60,000-plus, compared to 37.2 percent of the U.S. population. But it does not offer comparisons in the widely accepted upscale categories of HHI $75,000-plus and other higher-income breaks on its Web site.

Levine says the show's creative model complements the sponsorship platform. While she describes "Wine Makers" as dropping "The Apprentice" into the wine business, she adds that the Donald Trump-headliner suffers from its deluge of brand integrations. "Product placement is so overt and obvious and drives the content," she says. "We want the characters' stories to drive the show."

Plans call for the eight-episode series to begin with 12 contestants--which will be trimmed to nine in the first episode, and then to six in the next. The six finalists will then battle it out over the remaining six episodes. The contestants will live together like other reality series, and a rotation of judges specializing in different aspects of the wine business will make the cuts on each episode. Contestants will be tested on the soup-to-nuts of the wine business, from vintage conception to sales and marketing. Producers hope that an insider's view of the industry will be an additional attraction to the competition.

The winning label will be distributed at Whole Foods stores and via Wine.com.

Sponsors' spots or promotions attached to the show will also appear when the series repeats, perhaps for five runs. At two spots an episode over five runs, that's 80 spots.

"Wine Makers" was originally scheduled to air this spring, then fall, but was delayed due to some issues in securing sponsorship dollars. While casting for a host continues, shooting is scheduled to begin late next month.

The show is not PBS' first taste of reality-competition. Last year, several weeks after "Top Chef" launched, PBS debuted "Cooking Under Fire"--billed as "reality TV that feeds your brain"--with 12 contestants vying for a chef spot at a premiere New York restaurant.

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