Inside The Fox-Ford Deal

In a strategy usually reserved for PBS shows or highly dramatic movies, Ford Motors executed its deal with Fox to single sponsor the premiere of the Keifer Sutherland series 24 without interruption. Does this move herald a new ad model, or just a new level in the relationship between Fox and Ford?

The premiere of 24 on Tuesday night showed that Ford will have substantial product placement in the series, as it did with “American Idol.” It also was the only sponsor on Tuesday’s no-commercial debut. Sources say it will be the biggest sponsor of the series this season. The model has a lot to support it as a win for both sides. Ford, by setting itself as a series-presenting sponsor, gets credit from the consumer for no ads, and gets away from TV auto ad clutter. Fox gets an opportunity to give viewers a no-interruption trial for 24.

“It’s a great idea, but only the big clients can afford it,” says Pat Wallwork, partner at SantaFe’s McKee, Wallwork and Henderson. “I’m sure Fox negotiated a good rate for this. Planners and buyers always know this kind of deal is negotiable but you have to justify the cost and sometimes that’s tough.”

Fox did not respond to queries about the deal. According to overnight Nielsen ratings from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., 24 won the key demos by a wide margin and edged out CBS for first place in total viewers, although CBS had a bigger household rating for The Guardian.

Other experts think the deal was driven by Ford’s desire to find a marketing hook in a busy new model season. IN fact, Peen State Smeal Business School professor Andrew Bergstein believed that the premiere deal was probably negotiated with product placement and full-season support included.

“Look at what the other car companies are doing,” he says. “There’s only so much you can do with low finance rates. This gets you away from clutter and possible gets the client away from a straight CPM deal.”

One more element to consider, according to Wallwork. Is this an experiment for days when a large percentage of the population can skip commercials with PVRs? Will one sponsor and product placement become more commonplace?

At this week’s TV network roundtable, concern about that was minimal.

"I don't think we're at a point of crisis yet," said The WB's Jordan Levin.

UPN's Dawn Ostroff said that at best, PVRs have captured less than 1% of the nation's TV households. "Right now we've got a long way to go before they're prevalent."

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