One giant leap for Shonda Rhimes is a small step for ad-kind

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Why doesn't the ad-supported world represent the world we actually live in, asks Vitro's CEO.

Shonda Rhimes is leaving network TV for Netflix. Rhimes said, "I’m thrilled by the idea of a world where I’m not caught in the necessary grind of network television." She mentioned that Netflix will afford her "unique creative freedom," meaning no 22-episode seasons, no placating advertisers, no censorship regulations.

Netflix also just inked a deal with The Coen Brothers for "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs." And you know how the Coens reacted? They said, "We are streaming motherfuckers!" See what they did there? They swore. They’d never be allowed to say that on advertiser-supported TV.

But why not? Why doesn’t the ad-supported world support a universe of content that represents the world we actually live in? Why aren’t creators offered more "creative freedom?"

There’s a great Voltaire quote: "It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere." Marketers, let’s not be fools. When Shondaland shifts to Netflix, it signals that power is shifting away from media owners and toward content creators, opening the doors for marketers to turn a page as Rhimes has. It’s time to accept that the rules of everything are constantly in flux. So, let’s adapt—or at least take the first step. When are brands going to start owning long-term assets versus what are effectively short-term sponsorships? 

We once offered a client the chance to be partners with a huge Hollywood producer. They would have been equity partners in revenue-generating assets, all while availing themselves of relatively unlimited content, participation in targeted story development and access to A-level talent. Instead, the client chose a more risk-averse approach, paying for a traditional TV campaign featuring a celebrity spokesperson. It’s a move that cost them a lot more than celebrity endorsement fees in the long run. 

Right now marketers have an untapped opportunity to be as bold as they claim to want to be. And in the words of one gigantically famous brand, "Just do it."

According to Media Dynamics, the Upfronts, which just wrapped in July, garnered $19.7 billion in advertising for broadcast and cable TV networks. That’s almost 6 percent more than last year. A whopping $9.1 billion of that is for broadcast TV, 4 percent more than last year. The networks continue to hold the power.

Gain negotiation leverage. Preempt the need for premium priced programming. Launch content and media "products" with revenue potential. And if you are not comfortable taking that bigger step, take a lesson from Shonda Rhimes’ success at ABC and think about the advantage of live network TV—the kick-ass live-tweeting second-screen experiences that became part of her biggest and most anticipated shows. Binge TV watching can be pretty lonely, no? Marketers need to take advantage of these opportunities more proactively.

The world keeps moving ever-forward, yet advertisers want to hold on to rules from yesteryear. Take the step. The rules have been changing for a long time. It’s one small step.

Let’s baby-step and make some magic happen!

Tom Sullivan is CEO of VITRO.