As seen in Variety

SUMMARY: CBS’s efforts to attract B-to-B advertisers by leveraging the popularity of their shows. Instead of traditional TV ads, these advertisers, like NWN Carousel are opting for digital ads alongside show clips. MutualMarkets facilitates these partnerships, using AI to match advertisers with relevant content. CBS hopes this approach will not only benefit advertisers but also help grow their shows by attracting new sponsors. The platform has already seen success with companies like NWN Carousel seeing significantly higher clickthrough rates compared to traditional methods. This strategy represents a shift in TV advertising, blurring the lines between consumer and B-to-B advertisers. NWN Carousel’s pilot ad was CBS’ “Fire Country.” Two sides initially struck a deal for a series of digital ads to appear that paired a message about safety with a heads-up about the firefighting drama. The digital modules offer a link for a web explorer to check out services, along with a short video clip about the show. “Safety through every season,” reads one line in the ad.

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Taylor Tomlinson has proven herself to be a big draw among younger crowds and those savvy with social media. Now CBS hopes the new “After Midnight” host will have similar appeal with a decidedly niche sector: B-to-B advertisers.

By Brian Steinberg

The network is trying to develop partnerships with a cluster of marketers that typically find their customers among decision-making executives at corporations. One such advertiser is Codingscape, a technology consultant that sees an alliance with Tomlinson as something that will help get potential clients to view the company as innovative. Instead of putting traditional TV ads on Tomlinson’s late-night show, however, Codingscape wants to run digital ads with its message posted alongside clips of her in action.

“This is a B-to-B that people haven’t heard of,” says Alan Gould, co-CEO of MutualMarkets, a tech upstart that has developed a system for pairing advertisers with TV programs that suit their products, services or image. Even so, he adds, Codingscape “has money to spend on marketing.”

TV has largely been the province of giant advertisers like McDonald’s or Procter & Gamble, who spend millions each year on traditional TV commercials that cajole viewers to eat a Big Mac or buy a Swiffer. But there are thousands of smaller companies that would only be too happy to sponsor popular series such as “Young Sheldon” or “Law & Order: SVU” if they could only gain similar access. Super Bowl viewers saw such dynamics in play this year when CoStar Group, the owner of real-estate sites like and turned out to be one of the biggest spenders in the Big Game.

Technology is giving it to them. Thanks to the interactive nature of streaming, which hands subscribers more control over what they watch and how they do so, there is room for regional and local marketers to beam their commercials next to popular video selections. Disney’s Hulu is among the streamers offering small and medium-sized marketers access to systems that help them put their pitches up for many to see. The new interest in such sponsorship has been growing as TV networks see many of their mainstay clients earmarking more dollars for competing new-tech video outlets, spurring a decline in overall ad sales in recent quarters for many of their corporate parents.

MutualMarkets is trying a different method. The company offers a system that lets advertisers comb through a database of recent, current and in-production content that is believed to attract the consumers most likely to be interested in their goods or services. Using artificial intelligence, the virtual marketplace can also help advertisers create templates for the actual ads. TV and ad executives must agree on certain parameters — such as number of consumer impressions, fees and windows of exclusivity to use certain show marks — as they negotiate. If all goes well, the advertiser generates new awareness among audiences who favor the shows, while the networks stand to benefit from a marketer spending money on a campaign that might spur new sampling.

“Our hope is that MutualMarkets can help us build new relationships with B-to-B businesses and other B-to-C brands to reach audiences we wouldn’t normally reach, but also grow our base of advertisers who do business with us,” says Mike Benson, president and CMO of CBS. “It can be difficult for smaller marketers to stand out, even with advanced audience targeting, but we believe co-branding with our shows, especially with a show like ‘After Midnight’ with Taylor Tomlinson, will help their advertising get noticed, which in turn, will help us grow our shows as we bring new advertisers to us.”

MutualMarkets has already paired a handful of advertisers with CBS programs in a partnership that was struck more than a year ago. There is some new hope, says Mike Benson, that the companies might grow their relationship with the programs, placing their products on screen.

CBS is experimenting with the service as the job of touting its programs grows exponentially more difficult. For years, TV networks relied heavily on “promos,” or in-house video ads that called attention to new series or new episodes, but usually ran alongside commercial breaks on their own air. As more viewers more to streaming services for their scripted and reality favorites, the audiences seeing those promos have dwindled. Getting special treatment or securing a product’s appearance in a program often required an established relationship between advertiser and TV outlet – and millions of ad dollars already spent. MutualMarkets could disrupt those covenants.

NWN Carousel helps corporations manage communications and connectivity, and has products designed expressly for first responder call centers. But it doesn’t have a lot of Hollywood contacts, says Andrew Gilman, the company’s chief marketing officer. MutualMarkets’ system suggested the company look at CBS’ “Fire Country,” and the two sides initially struck a deal for a series of digital ads to appear that paired a message about safety with a heads-up about the firefighting drama. The digital modules offer a link for a web explorer to check out services, along with a short video clip about the show. “Safety through every season,” reads one line in the ad.

“Typically, this would take months of back-and-forth negotiations. This took a matter of weeks,” says Gilman. “One of the major issues that we usually see is that you need to know someone or an agency to interact with CBS. But we could contact CBS through the platform to see if they even wanted to partner with us.” 

The company has found that the video ads it put together via MutualMarkets has a clickthrough rate of 21%, he says, compared to a norm that is usually around .5% — “an order of magnitude larger than anything I have seen in my career.”  

Dashlane, a cybersecurity company that helps customers manage passwords, was interested in aligning itself with a property that burnished security. Mutual Markets paired them with the long-running procedural “NCIS.” The ad that resulted “almost feels a bit like an ad for the show,” says Dhiraj Kumar, the company’s CMO. The tagline: “The first line of defense.”

“We take on the feel of the show and add our message on top,” says Kumar. The company hopes to foster deeper ties with the series, says the executive, including placements within episodes, or with its social handles. “We are going to try a couple of things that are still in development.”

TV networks typically didn’t consider such companies as mainstay sponsors, says Benson, but “lines are blurring significantly” between so-called “consumer” advertisers and those in the B-to-B space. Many smaller companies wouldn’t consider TV in the past “because of budgets or the way you have to go about doing it. The thinking was you had to be a certain size,” says Benson. “I think we are proving them wrong.”

See the Full “Safety for Every Season Campaign”