Lifetime Gives Cash Back To Advertisers For 'Project Runway'

Whether "Project Runway" will ever air on Lifetime is a question as difficult to forecast as which fashions will take off next fall. As a result, without a show for next month, Lifetime has begun to return money to advertisers who committed to the series via deals made in last summer's upfront.

"With the current economy, clients are asking for cash back and they're getting it," a person with knowledge of the matter said.

A Lifetime representative declined comment.

Last summer, with no reason to believe that "Runway" would not air on the network, Lifetime sold it in the upfront for premium CPMs. Since then, the network has become entangled in a legal morass.

How much the current give-backs will affect its business was partly detailed in court papers the network filed. A failure to air the show--either in January or ever--will leave Lifetime "deprived of vital advertising commitments," the papers said.

Lifetime had planned to launch the show in November, but had moved the debut to next month.



For networks, having to give cash back is a bête noire. As a rule, they look for ways to keep the dollars in-house--to offer advertisers additional impressions or some other form of makegoods.

But in this case, Lifetime may have been caught between a rock (the uniqueness of "Runway") and a hard place (a sputtering economy) that has left it needing to accede to advertiser requests.

For marketers, "Runway"--with its buzz, upscale audience and other driving factors--is such a desirable show to be a part of that Lifetime may not have other top programming to offer as a substitute to satisfy them. And with advertisers finding their budgets stretched thinner these days than when they may have committed to "Runway" last summer, they may be eager to reclaim dollars if the show is a no-go.

Separately and unrelated to Lifetime's recent travails, a key sponsor of the series during its past two seasons on Bravo will not return when/if the next season takes off. Online fashion retailer, which had a sprawling deal that included ad buys as well as in-show integrations, is taking a pass.

("Runway" advertisers have worked with Bravo to purchase ad space and other connections--and with the producers, the Weinstein Co., to execute the in-show integrations.)

Lifetime reached a deal early this year with the Weinstein Co. to take over the hit show from Bravo. But Bravo parent NBC Universal objected and went to court seeking to hold onto it.

NBCU was successful in persuading a judge to issue an injunction blocking the move to Lifetime. Lifetime has since sought to shift the matter to federal court, and all parties are awaiting word on whether a judge there will take up the case.

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