Why Comedy Central Is Replacing Commercials With Branded Content

By Jillian Richardson


Your eyes are glued to the screen as you watch your favorite TV show. The writers are about to reveal a huge secret about your favorite character. Then, just as you’re about to find out the details, commercials come on. You immediately mute the screen and start scrolling through Instagram. Even photos of your friend’s latte are more interesting than a 30-second spot for wrinkle cream.

Anyone who watches television knows how frustrating that process can be. For networks and advertisers, the frustration is starting to impact them as well. That’s why Comedy Central has decided enough is enough—it wants to keep viewers hooked, even during its commercial breaks. Now, instead of a series of short spots, the network has started airing a custom two-and-half minute “linear commercial pod” once per month.

In other words, Comedy Central is experimenting with the televised version of branded content.

While these spots still interrupt the flow of a program, Comedy Central is hoping they’re more entertaining to watch than an ad for eczema cream. According to a 2014 study by the Harvard Business Review, “the percentage of ads considered fully viewed and getting high attention has decreased dramatically, from 97 percent in the early 1990s to less than 20 percent today.” These longform ads, which conform to Comedy Central’s idiosyncratic style and tell a contained story, are an attempt to turn those numbers around.

If viewers respond to the new approach, the change could be beneficial for Comedy Central’s business. Since brands go directly through the network instead of an agency, Comedy Central cuts out the middleman, which gives the network more control over its advertising, as well as a new revenue stream.

“If Comedy Central can produce ads that are genuinely funny and shareable, they’ll be able to get reach and engagement—the two primary KPIs of any ad campaign,” said Kevin Delie, the director of publisher development at TripleLift, a software platform for native programmatic ads. “For brands, this means the campaign gets attention, which is everything. For the network, they may be able to save TV revenue that is at risk.”

Getting handy

For the first few months of this experiment, Comedy Central is running a short branded series called Handy. No, this isn’t branded content for a new brand of lube (unfortunately). The series is actually about the trials and tribulations of a hand model, sponsored by a different company each episode. As you can imagine, this setup provides the perfect opportunity for humor.

For example, the first brand involved in Handy is Joe’s Crab Shack. Being Comedy Central, the network naturally makes fun of the company’s name. That’s why the spot is called… drum roll, please: “Erik Gets Crabs.”


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