Cue the quality infomercial

To media buyers, paid-programming shows have always been the Rodney Dangerfield of television, with meager audiences and graveyard time slots adding up to no respect.

To media buyers, paid-programming shows have always been the Rodney Dangerfield of television, with meager audiences and graveyard time slots adding up to no respect.

But an attitudinal rethink might be sparked by the bold decision of a cluster of marketers – including Bacardi Canada, Reynolds Aluminum, M&M Meats, Napoleon Barbecues, Air Transat, Cuisinart and the Super Clubs hotel chain – to take a chance on a stereotype-defying infomercial show called King of the Q, which debuted last year.

For season two, some are even more enthusiastic because the show will not only continue airing in Canada on the CTV network, where its average weekly reach is 175,000, plus more viewers via DirecTV and Yahoo streaming, it will also debut on the America One network, whose 125 affiliates will beam it into 25 million households in the U.S. at lunch- and dinner-time.

But hold on. Why did marketers of this magnitude even consider participating in the originally Canada-only, Sunday morning, paid-programming show in the first place? Because, says Bacardi group brand manager Corey Ball, its unique concept was enticing and its consumer-attracting potential was obvious.

‘I looked at it as a full-blown television show, no matter how it got on the air, because of its high quality. My attitude was, and still is: here’s a great TV show that’s all about barbecuing. It’s addressing males and that’s perfect for Jack Daniels.’

So what makes King of the Q so unusual? Just about everything, according to executive producer Kirk Sharpley. For starters, his partner, show host Ted Reader, is a popular chef and cookbook author with a substantial fan base thanks to nine years on Cottage Country, regular appearances on Canada AM and radio, as well as a five-year stint as executive chef for President’s Choice.

The complementary credentials Sharpley brought to the partnership include 20 years of experience at a number of packaged goods companies, culminating with the post of national promotions manager for Carling-O’Keefe Breweries. Six years ago, he founded his own company, KCS Marketing, based in Concord, Ont., intending only ‘to provide quality service to a small group of clients.’

Fate apparently had other ideas because one of those clients turned out to be King of the Q, then still at the drawing-board stage. Initially engaged to ’round up sponsors and sell advertising,’ Sharpley wound up becoming the show’s executive producer and a full partner with Reader. Together, the two brainstormed unique concepts for both the program’s format and its jigsaw puzzle of mostly interlocking sponsorships.

‘We decided this wasn’t going to be just a ho-hum how-to show about grilling in the back yard,’ Sharpley explains. ‘So we came up with the notion of shooting it in exotic locations, not only for entertainment value, but also so we could rustle up some spectacular sponsorships.’

The partners first struck a deal with the Jamaican Tourist Board to shoot the entire first season on that country’s beaches. Then they signed up Super Clubs, whose Caribbean hotels would provide impromptu studio space for Reader and his on-site audiences.

In addition to tossing Jamaican delicacies on the barbie, each episode would include a travel segment, with the host deep-sea fishing, swimming with dolphins or visiting such commercial operations as the Appleton Rum plantation – all of which would be featured as vacation destinations.

Then Sharpley began assembling the Canadian pieces of the sponsorship puzzle. All of their products would be used and mentioned on air and some would be hooked up with each other to spawn cross-promotional opportunities. ‘We wanted to get some of our partners working together and taking advantage of each other’s strengths.’

Example? ‘We jumped on the band wagon early because Ted [Reader] has so much charisma plus the ability to present both himself and our grills very well,’ says David Coulson, national advertising manager for Wolfe Steel, of Barrie, Ont., which manufactures the Napoleon barbecue grills used and touted on the show. ‘But what also got us interested was the chance to form strategic alliances with other sponsors.’

Hence, M&M Meats, which operates more than 300 stores across Canada, features Napoleon grills in various publicity events. And Napoleon, whose parent company is the largest independent manufacturer of grills in North America, does the reverse. Similarly, another title sponsor, Leisurescapes of Toronto, recommends Napoleon grills in its upscale outdoor-living designs.

As for Bacardi, Ball says his company welcomed the chance to work with Reader to develop both a new Jack Daniels-based product called ‘Outstanding Gourmet BBQ Sauce’ and ‘Bayou Bites,’ a rub containing Southern Comfort liquor. Both products are being distributed on-pack.

Season two of King of the Q, which was shot in the Bahamas, is now being edited into 13 half-hour episodes that will premier in January and repeat once later on. Sharpley says two minutes of advertising remain available for the Canadian airings and much of the show’s six minutes of ad time for the U.S. version is still up for grabs. He sees ‘plenty of opportunities for beverages like wine, beer and soft drinks and for other products associated with outdoor food preparation and leisure time.’

Sharpley won’t say how much, but right now a chunk of the money he’s getting from sponsors has to be paid out to CTV and America One to purchase the show’s airtime. But will King of the Q remain a paid-programming show forever? Maybe not. Both Napoleon’s Coulson and Bacardi’s Ball predict that Reader will soon become a cross-border star. And Sharpley says the America One deal ‘leaves us free to be picked up by other networks.’

All of which makes King of the Q ripe for an outright sale to one of the Canadian specialty networks, opines Dennis Dinga, VP/director of broadcast buying for Toronto’s M2 Universal. ‘They’re all hungry for programming, and this [show] sounds like a good fit for the Food Network or Discovery or Life.’

Adds Ball: ‘Whether it’s paid programming or a regular network show, if it works for my product, I’m interested.’ In fact, he says Jack Daniels is also a sponsor on another unusual infomercial-type show, The All Strength Challenge. It airs in Canada on Outdoor Life as well as on Fox Sports in the U.S., on the Sky Broadcast System in Europe and on other networks in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Ball says he won’t be surprised if more quality shows buy their way onto television screens in the future, as King of the Q is doing in Canada. ‘I think our broadcast system has almost forced independent producers to do it this way.’