Samsung Makes Bid to Keep Viewers From Skipping Fox Ad Breaks

Brian Steinberg

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Fox is hoping to knit together the seconds-long divide between a TV program and the commercials that support it.

During ad breaks for a few football broadcasts, tomorrow’s run of the Emmys and Wednesday’s season premiere of “The Masked Singer,” the network will kick off ad sessions with special show promos that display artistic renderings of various soon-to-launch Fox programs crafted by influencers using a Samsung Galaxy Note 10, which comes with an “S-pen” stylus.  Among the Fox programs getting the sketch treatment are the first-responders series “9-1-1” and the popular music drama “Empire.”

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“It’s not about the retail message. It’s not about a sale,” says Darren Schillace, executive vice president   of marketing at Fox Entertainment, in an interview. “You are seeing an artist start to sketch something and you want to see what’s being drawn.”

Getting TV viewers to stick around for the commercials has become a quest on the order of Don Quixote’s efforts in Spain. In a world where a new generation of viewers has grown accustomed to watching TV programs on streaming services that feature fewer ads – and, sometimes, none – convincing audiences of the value of TV ads has grown more difficult.

And yet, Fox has reason to continue the battle.  Following the sale of the bulk of 21st Century Fox to the Walt Disney Company, executives at the new Fox Corporation are remaking the company’s broadcast network into a place that depends heavily on the type of programming that needs to be seen live, or as close to air as possible. Football, WWE wrestling and a competition show like “Masked Singer” are all part of the new mix, along with scripted programming. All will come with commercials tucked into the proceedings.

The partnership with Samsung “definitely brings additional engagement to the commercial breaks,” says Suzanne Sullivan, executive vice president of entertainment ad sales at Fox.

The alliance spotlights entertainment companies’ growing reliance on Madison Avenue to help get the word out about new TV series. Movie studios frequently tap advertisers to spread the word about a new film opening, and other video producers have steadily followed suit. Netflix crafted an ornate tie-up with Coca-Cola Co. earlier this year, for example, to help generate publicity for another cycle of its series “Stranger Things.”

Simply put, getting the word out about the panoply of new TV series launching each fall is a task that has become exceedingly more complicated, thanks to the bevy of other programs sprouting up on cable and digital and due to the fact that fewer TV viewers are sticking around to watch a network’s favorite method for touting programs – the promos that air during commercial breaks.

Fox hopes Samsung’s commercial break antics will convince viewers to stay in place. “We wanted to try this. Can we hold the audience’s attention?” asks Shillace. Those who engage “will walk away with an understanding, hopefully, of what these shows have to offer.”

The Fox breaks are just Samsung’s latest attempt to weave messages about its products and services into video content that looks very little like a typical advertisement. In March, the consumer-electronics giant had a starring role in a unique broadcast of NBC’s “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” which eschewed the regular monologue and sketches in favor of an episode shot entirely with a Samsung Galaxy S10+ smartphone, which features an ultra-wide camera lens.

The 45-second Samsung snippets on Fox are meant to help both parties,  explains Patricio Paucar, Samsung’s vice president of marketing, in an interview. “They expressed a need they had to create more continuity when they go from programming to commercials. Sometimes, they lose that engagement from viewers. They wanted to create more continuity,” he says. “One way to do that is to do something different not show a commercial.”

More is likely on the way. Samsung has already agreed to take part in a November 7 “Tonight Show” broadcast that will send the program to the University of Texas at Austin.  Paucar hints at another deal the company has struck with ABC that should be revealed in days to come.

“It’s about how we insert ourselves in culture in a way that is relevant and in a way that adds value. It doesn’t feel like a commercial ad intrusion or interruption. That is our goal,” he says. “Nobody wants an ad that interrupts. If we can earn our way into the experience and have consumers feel they are getting something out of it, it allows us to bring awareness to our brands. This is the way we are going to continue to play going forward.”

Meanwhile, Fox’s Sullivan says the network is open to other deals that help keep viewers around when commercials break into the content that originally attracted them.

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