Showing nothing but ads results in predictable failure

March 5, 2008 by Dave Haynes

The New York Times is reporting through one of its blogs that an NBC-backed online and broadcast experiment called Firebrand is being shut down.

The idea was to provide content that was nothing but well-done advertising, with the idea that it’s just as compelling as a lot of scripted stuff on TV and online.

Well … it’s apparently not.

The fire has been banked in an experiment to transform advertising into entertainment.
Firebrand, a television and online service that since October has been presenting commercials as content, is being shut down as its major investors decided to stop providing more money.

A spokesman for NBC Universal, Cory Shields, said on Tuesday afternoon, “we are not putting any additional capital into the company.”

Mr. Shields responded to a question from a reporter who was told by an executive of Firebrand that the company had shut down, effective immediately. The executive was not authorized to discuss the status of the company and as such declined to be identified.
Mr. Shields declined to discuss the reason for the decision or how much NBC Universal and the other partners had invested.

But there had been reports of low ratings for the Firebrand TV show, on Ion Television at 11 p.m., as well as reports that sponsor support for the show and the Web site ( were lagging.

Many ads Firebrand showed ran free of charge; others were to be included because sponsors paid to show them.

Firebrand was introduced in October by partners that included NBC Universal, part of General Electric; Microsoft; Ion Television, part of Ion Media Networks; and the Peacock Equity Fund, a venture of NBC Universal and a unit of General Electric.

The goal was to capitalize on the nascent trend of ads as entertainment, which intends to make commercials compelling enough that they are watched for fun rather than avoided, ignored or skipped.

I mention this because there are digital screen network operators who are looking at models that are nothing but ads on their screens, and while the online and TV experiences are different, the base idea is the same.  The kind of viewership this approach can generate, when there is no real value in looking, is suspect.

If ads that cost $500,000 to produce can’t get people watching, imagine the mighty power of an endless stream of $750 spots.

I’m not a believer, at all, in just throwing things like news headlines and filler video into the mix to break up the monotony of the ads. The guys who do this stuff well actually do programming, just like networks (other than Firebrand) do programming.

  1. Michael says:

    I think the ads with the half-naked bodies were quite entertaining, actually.

    But of course I am sitting at my desk at home in the evening. So I have time to sit here marvellling at a site that just seems to play commercials. And that misses basic controls I want , like “pause” and “start”. Whether I would give this sort of content time in my local supermarket is debatable. It would be a short debate. Just like I would only watch for a short time. Say 12 seconds.

  2. george price says:

    so compelling images work, nothing new there a picture paints a thousand words!!

    advertising!!! seems like an old word these days when clearly the objective of capturing ones attention with a message that compells you to do something can be done today in such a variety of ways, simply stating ads on screens dont work in the digital sense is really not giving much away, we know from experience that screens in say football stadiums running your teams latest goal alongside a strategic brand ad works ! particullarly if used as a call to action for example your teams just scored get a cool beer from the bar ! nice or perhaps that ad is then bluetoothed to your phone and you get a discount how can this not work!!

  3. effie says:

    How can you compare a TV show, where the viewer has the ability to change the channel to digital signage? The idea of people “tuning in” to watch advertising on TV seems absurd.

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