Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pod-busting, but of course!

In a desperate attempt to engage viewers, more and more TV networks and advertisers are resorting to creative innovation in US. The last couple of years saw a surge in "pod-busting" which was initially restricted to MTV, VH1 and Comedy Cenral keeping their young gadget-friendly demographic in mind. In 2005, MTV invented the concept of pod-busting which proved to be partly successful though not a radical movement. Slowly bigger networks caught on. Now, what exactly is pod-busting?

According to the International Herald Tribune, "This year, for the 2008-2009 television season, the networks are betting on a panoply of "pod-busters" - unconventional content meant to entice viewers to pay attention during the commercial breaks, which are also called pods.

"It's a form of creative insinuation," said John Ford, president at Discovery Channel U.S., part of Discovery Communications. "It's a little Zen-like: being intrusive without seeming intrusive." On the drawing board is a promotion for "Shark Week" during the series "Deadliest Catch," during which digital sharks will leap from the water.

The main types of pod-busters can be classified as below:
  • Minisodes/bitcoms/ micro-series sponsored by marketers

  • Sponsored clips that combine elements of shows and commercials

  • Promos of one program shown inside another program, thanks to digital effects

  • Content of commercial matched to theme of the program (In fact, the buzz word for matching themes of shows and commercials is TV in Context. While it sounds right strategically, it helps in pushing engagement metrics only when done right.)
Examples of pod-busters to help understand the concept:

Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.(TBS) - The cable network started offering "bitcoms" in 2008 — an original comedy sketch involving a brand, followed by its ad.

Sunsilk - The Unilever hair care brand worked with TBS to create Lovebites, a series of two-minute "minisodes" presented by Sunsilk which ended with offers of product samples from the Sunsilk website. This minisodes were aired during "Sex and the City". Yes, similiar content is a major driver in such innovations.

This does not mean that networks are giving up on the conventional 30-sec format which makes up more than 50% of TV advertising. It is cost-effective, it is a standard selling unit and it is very much alive. Marketers are just trying to find better and newer ways to keep the target audience engaged. Not an easy task in these days of TiVos and other DVRs.

If the advent of pod-busters means we will see less of inane logo-driven commercials, testimonials and comparitive ads, then this is definitely the direction of the future. The results are complying. Known for their penchant for pod-busting initiatives, MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central have jumped from -15 percent to -5 percent in their commercial ratings deliveries, according to Adweek of Jan 14, 2009. No mean feat in today's distracting environment and a young demographic with an ever-decreasing attention span.

Is India listening?

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