Social TV Syncing In

Synced apps are the new frontier for cable TV.

This upfront season, cable networks and advertisers are talking about ways that product integration can extend beyond traditional programming and short-form content to embrace the brave new world of digital and social media—including tablets, smartphones and Facebook.

Ad sales executives say that expanding product integration beyond cable programming—tried-and-true offerings such as creating TV interstitials and other short-form content—is a big part of marketplace discussions this year.

"Overall, 'social TV' is a big, buzzy word now," says Jesse Redniss, USA Network's senior VP-digital. "A lot of people are talking about it because of the huge emergence of digital and social used together with television, and making real impact on user engagement."

That's not to say that more conventional integration and placement—be it products embedded in shows or custom short content—aren't on the table in this year's upfront negotiations. TV sponsor integrations are more sophisticated than ever for programmers such as History and Scripps Networks Interactive.

History, catapulted into the rarified realm of being a Top 5-rated cable network, has had great success featuring its talent in custom vignettes for advertisers. There's a lengthy list of these partnerships: In one, the team from "American Restoration" plays the "Gimme a Break" ad theme for Hershey's Kit Kat using their shop equipment and tools. In another, the four leads from "Pawn Stars" drive off to a Subway shop.

"Every one of these is in discussions to be renewed," says Peter Olsen, History's senior VP-ad sales.

Because History owns all its content, it's easy for the network to embed products into its programming and work talent into the deal, says David DeSocio, senior VPad sales marketing and partnerships for A&E Networks.

Mr. Olsen and other cable executives note there's been a change in what advertisers and agencies are demanding. They want more accountability, in the form of qualitative research, to prove that product integration is supercharging their 30-second spots, according to cable ad executives. History and other programmers say they have the proof.

Products featured in brand integrations across multiple History platforms see double-digit lifts in metrics such as awareness, recall, favorability and behavior, according to network research. "I'd say in the 12-to-25-percent range, in every metric we've measured, we've seen that kind of lift," Mr. Olsen says.

This year History wants to expand product integration into the digital and social TV realm, including Facebook.

"Two or three years ago, we might have been in 20 or 30 of these conversations," Mr. Olsen says. "Now, we're in 100."

There's a reason cable networks have been experimenting aggressively with new media, such as tablet and smartphone apps, where consumer behavior is an unknown, according to officials at those networks. Advertisers are looking for digital "amplification" for their brand messages. And apps are a potential vehicle for this, a new way to engage audiences.

Synchronizing apps or social media content with the TV content gives viewers a reason to watch programming live and stay tuned for commercial breaks.

USA is treading into the digital unknown with popular shows such as "White Collar" and "Psych," Mr. Redniss says.

One of this year's initiatives for "White Collar" was a Miso SideShow for Mozzie, one of the series' characters. Viewers were able to download a companion-viewing mobile app to get access to unique content while watching "White Collar." USA capped off the use of the companion app by using SideShow to identify four "superfans" and featuring them in the SideShow content during the February "White Collar" season finale.

"Apps are a way to brand a space on somebody's phone, onto the deck of the phone," Mr. Redniss says. "The trend is really that focus on engagement with people in real time, as well as extending their experience around a television show. That is probably, for our industry, one of the biggest trends we're seeing."

Madison Avenue wants to know all about possible social TV brand integrations for this upfront.

"We're already starting to get in a lot of RFPs [requests for proposals] in which agencies are asking, 'What are the social TV executions you can bring to the table with this show? How can this show be amplified using your social fan bases? How can our brand be integrated into it?' " Mr. Redniss says.

USA has a slew of elements that bring its viewers together online and in social media. One of this year's online games, Mozzie's Mission, was "powered by the 2012 Ford Explorer." The car was featured in all elements of the game, with links to Ford content. Playing gets a viewer points in the White Collar Society, which connects fans online and via Facebook and Twitter.

"A lot of the savvy agencies see the innovation and understand that this is a way for them to get a lot more kind of bang for their buck and a lot more ROI, based on combining their on-air and digital budgets together to really get more for less," Mr. Redniss says.

In terms of product integration, the tried-and-true still works very well, too, according to Scripps.

Its cable stable, including Food Network and HGTV, has become expert at, and continues to make strides in, creating both short-form content for sponsors and integrating it into hit shows such as HGTV's "Selling New York," says Laura Galietta, Scripps senior VP-ad sales marketing.

Integration "makes their advertising work better," she says, citing the authoritativeness of venues such as Food Network and HGTV, which she says have viewer trust, engage audiences and provide a fitting environment for sponsors.

"We influence purchase decisions," Ms. Galietta says. "They trust us, trust what we say, and that makes our environment the most ad-receptive in cable."

For HGTV's "Selling New York," Scripps developed a product integration for the Audi A8 that trumpeted the car's design and featured Shaun Osher, the head of the real estate agency who stars in the show. That vignette ran not only on "Selling New York" but also on other shows on HGTV as well as its sibling networks Food Network and DIY Network.

The short-form content reaped results. IAG Research determined that the Audi "Selling New York" vignette on HGTV indexed 400, three times the brand recall compared with the Audi vignette cable average, according to Scripps.

That effort was so successful that Audi hopped on board for a "Selling New York" spinoff that debuted in January, "Selling LA." "We created a similar program for them that included one of the agents from the LA show," Ms. Galietta says.

Food Network is doing creative product integrations, as well. Daisy Sour Cream is a sponsor of the hit "Chopped." That campaign includes a short-form segment called "Chopped: Open Your Basket," where contestants make a brunch using Daisy as one of the ingredients. Daisy is also running print ads around "The Chopped Challenge," a section in the April issue of Food Network Magazine.