Cable networks are becoming more savy advertising partners and are preparing in-depth research to make their case.

While it’s true that interactive advertising has a bright future, there’s a brave new world of noteworthy lower-tech deals, too. "Planning and integration have become much more collaborative," says ESPN’s SVP of Research and Analytics Artie Bulgrin. "It’s less of a buyer-seller relationship and more of a partnership relationship," he adds.

Witness ESPN’s evolving collaborative relationship with Nike. Or the partnership between Lifetime Television and Outback Steakhouse, where the network created mini-movies based on the restaurant chain’s "Live Adventurous" slogan.

This type of heavy integration requires a resetting of the clock. "Timing is always key in that the more lead time you have, the better," says Debbie Richman, formerly Lifetime’s EVP, Ad Sales. "It allows you to dig down deep together." Perhaps most telling, Karen Soots, Outback’s director of media services, says her company plans to meet only with networks that have submitted ideas Outback knows it can work with.

IFC TV and Sundance were early advocates of busting open the ways advertisers connect with audiences. Now five years into unique integrations and sponsorships, "There’s no such thing as a traditional break for us any more," says IFC TV/Sundance Channel President Evan Shapiro.

Instead, the IFC/Sundance team is crafting custom marketing solutions for clients like Honda, which created "trailers" that ran before select movie screenings at this year’s Sundance Festival. IFC and Sundance also are building programming around sponsors’ messages, as was the case with Palm Pre and IFC’s Bollywood event or the Tastemaker series sponsored by the Chase Sapphire card.

"We build these customized pieces of content with them and we allow them to co-own it with us, which is unusual," Shapiro says. "Many clients come in who’ve already made some branded content and are looking for a place to put it. That was the case with Porsche. They had done these really cool short films, and we built a night around them."

Today advertisers increasingly are demanding more feedback. "They know they have to be on multiple platforms to reach critical mass," Bulgrin says. "But the problem has been we lack the precise measure to understand what a given marketing communication or touch point does for a cross-media campaign."

To that end, in late March ESPN unveiled its XP cross-media research initiative. Beginning with World Cup coverage in June, ESPN will be gathering information about consumer behavior around sporting events. By next year, Bulgrin says, "We want to…provide advertisers with a certain level of metrics on a regular basis."

Of course interactivity is a key — and promising — puzzle piece. Since ’08, Turner’s been using its TVinCONTEXT platform, which places ads in the commercial pod immediately after contextually relevant program content. It began with movies on TBS and TNT.

"When viewers see a TViC ad an emotional connection is made and there is a greater likelihood that person will consider buying the brand," says Linda Yaccarino, EVP/COO of Turner Entertainment Ad Sales. Turner has sold more than 200 placements in TViC, she says, including On Star service by General Motors, Applebee’s, Best Buy and Chili’s.

ITV software developer Ensequence has had a hand in upping the ante on interactive programming, including NBC’s Olympics coverage and select AETN shows. Where interactive elements were available, History Channel’s Battles BC drew 20% of viewers into the interactive area, says Peter Low, Ensequence President/CEO. And the interactive version of Battles had a 20% higher rating than when it was not interactive, he adds. The average viewer spent 33 minutes interacting with the content. That should turn heads.

Who, What, Where, When

Who: IFC TV/Sundance Channel President Evan Shapiro

What: CTAM Research Conference, Keynote Address

Where: J.W. Marriott, Platinum Ballroom

When: May 14, 8:30am; (Full conference begins May 12; other speakers of note include Oxygen GM Jason Klarman and comScore Co-founder Gian Fulgoni, May 12, 1:30pm; and new-media academic Henry Jenkins, May 13, 8:30am)

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UP Entertainment promoted Melissa Ingram to svp, multicultural networks and strategy. She will continue day-to-day oversight of AspireTV and will now also be responsible for driving the growth of current and

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