TruTV Making Big Push for Live ‘Jokers’ Special

To promote its live Impractical Jokers special, truTV isn’t kidding around.

The network is working with more than a dozen marketers, social networks and media outlet to tune in to build buzz and get people to watch its jokers as they attempt to walk a high-wire above New York’s South Street Seaport Thursday night.

“This just speaks to the new way of marketing and advertising right now,” says Chris Linn, president and head of marketing at truTV. “The days of everyone being able to battle it out with huge off-channel budgets, it’s simply not that way anymore. It’s incumbent on networks to be smarter, more strategic, to understand how to lean into your assets as well as the platforms of others.”

Geico has been a sponsor of the show, now in its fourth season. For its 100th episode, which the network has dubbed the Impractical Jokers Live Punishment Special, the insurance company is presenting the Impractical Jokers: Fan-tastic Countdown special airing Wednesday night. Fans are voting on the top moments from the show using the hashtag #Jokers100.

Geico, which offers consumers savings on their car insurance, is also sponsoring a feature that let's them save one of the Jokers from being the first to walk the tightrope. The social media voting will determine the order in which the show’s four jokers—Q, Joe, Murr and Sal—attempt to cross the wire and the results will be revealed during the Live Punishment special.

“The jokers are terrified. Now one wants to go first,” Linn says.

There will also be live voting during the show on which Joker will walk the furthest on the high wire. Voters picking the right Joker will win a customized gift.

FanDuel, the one-day fantasy sports operator is participating by matching the amount of money—$25,000—the winner will win for the charity of his choice. Each Joker that attempts the stunt will get $10,000 for his charity, provided by truTV.

Verizon FiOS has been backing an Impractical Jokers sweepstakes offering fans a chance to win a trip to New York City for the Live Punishment special. The Millenium Hilton in lower Manhattan is providing lodging for sweepstakes winners and their guests.

Advertisers are “looking for a way to connect to fans,” Linn says. “TV has viewers who are also fans. With the Jokers being in their fourth season, what we have to offer them is a rabid fan base. .. We’re speaking to people who are intimately involved with this franchise, with the talent at the center of it, as well as the content around it. That’s something I think is a unique relationship here with advertisers and it is allowing us to do a lot of unique things, some of which have not been done before.”

In social media, truTV is using several Twitter platforms, including live webcasting “Under the Wire” via Periscope and content sharing using Snappy TV. Host Howie Mandel will be tweeting via @howiemandel before and during the event.

The network will also be using Yahoo’s new Livetext, which allows people to chat while texting by downloading the app and adding Jokers to ones list of friends. Also chatting during the event will be the Jokers and pre- and post-show host Casey Jost.

Livestream will offer live streaming event coverage with five camera angles during the special. Livestream is also producing the pre- and post -show special.

The network’s YouTube channel, which has 500,000 subscribers, will dedicate its page to the Jokers and will be adding a new piece of content daily. Five of the highest rated episodes of the series will be available on the channels.

Fans will be able to create short video clips of their favorite Joker moments from #LivePunishment and share them on social networks using the Whipclip mobile app.

“We will have a full war room [Thursday] with analysts, designers and social-media buyers on the 7th floor of the Time Warner Center where we’ll be responding live to all of the engagement we see from the fans,” says Puja Vohra, senior VP, marketing & digital marketing at truTV. “We are not sleeping that night. We want to make sure we capture all of the conversations and all of the metrics of the multiplatform viewing.”

Big Honcho Media has put together a package of 2,000 local TV spots and 319 radio spots working with radio stations and cable systems. They are expected to generate 12.8 million impressions.

iHeartMedia’s New York stations will be running spots to drive tune in. Z100 host Elvis Duran and the morning show will be on-site from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and passing out premiums.

House Party is working with the network to help 150 big fans host parties and share their experience across social channels.

The network has also been working with NYC & Company, the city’s marketing organization, to increase its media support. During the event, the network will have a live presence.

TruTV has brought back its Museum of Impractical History, a popular feature during ComicCon in July. Fans will be able to visit the museum, which features artifacts from the show and fan art.

There will also be special VIP areas for advertisers who have been invited to view the event in person.

The network is also making a media buy. “It’s a pretty decent buy,” says Vohra. The network bought a promoted trend on Twitter that should amplify its social media efforts. It is also spending on digital to get fans to watch live. “We’re also getting a lot of TV support from the Turner family, TBS, Adult Swim and TNT,” she says.

The show usually draws an audience of about 1.7 to 1.9 million viewers, with a big chunk time shifted. “This is a grand experiment on our part to see how many of these people can we drive to watch live on this night where the stakes are so high,” Linn adds.

Impractical Jokers is part of the network effort to rebrand from a reality oriented channel featuring crime video to one more focused on action, comedy and competition. The rebrand started last fall, but ratings are down. So far this quarter, among adults 18 to 49, viewers are down more than 20%.

Linn says the network is airing content and attracting viewers who are more attractive to advertisers. “We’re delivering a much more premium audience, which was one of our goals,” he said. “It’s higher income, it’s higher education and so everything is headed in the right direction. It takes a beat to turn a ship, particularly in the current landscape.”

He says new franchises are attracting higher ratings and that the network is excited about the new programming on the way including Funny Or Die's Billy on the Street and truTV first scripted show, Those Who Can't.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.