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Ad Free: Can That Be A Money Maker In TV?

"Mad Men," a TV show from Lions Gateabout Madison Avenue AdMen in 1960, has been a hit among a very small audience. It airs on a division of Cablevision , Rainbow Media's AMC, which has 90 million subscribers.

But the fact that it's created by the executive producer and writer of the "Sopranos," and it has a high production value that captures the striking look of the time, has earned it an enormous amount of media attraction--including about nine articles in the New York Times, and it's all the buzz out here in Hollywood.

Tomorrow, the show's season finale will air without a single commercial. Instead, it'll be sponsored entirely by DirecTV, with a 60 second sponsorship spot at the beginning and the end of the hour-long program. I spoke with a Deutsch NY advertising partner, Peter Gardiner who put together the deal about why it was a natural fit.

The program has an affluent, primarily middle aged-male demographic, one that's generally hard to reach with advertising, and ratings have found that viewers are quite likely to view this program in particular on DVR, which makes ads much less relevant. So why not wink at the subject of the show--the advertising--by pulling it out, and attract more attention to the sole sponsor.

If this works tomorrow night for the season finale, Cablevision will make the show's second season entirely commercial-free, finding sponsors for every show. DirecTV told me that they'd definitely consider returning next season. And companies including Ford and the cola giants have already lined up. Yesterday I talked to Lions Gate about the product placement potential for the show. (Correction: Cablevision's Rainbow Media/AMC has made no public announcement of a single sponsorship strategy for the season).

There was a deal with Jack Daniels in the first season, but there were lots of other opportunities that didn't translate into product placement cash for the show--Coca Cola , a carmaker, etc. But in the second season it sounds like the show will take advantage of the fact that there's a product featured in nearly every episode--a perfect opportunity for an airline, hotel, or packaged goods company to play proud of its 1960 heritage.

I chatted with the head of Lions Gate's TV production business, Kevin Beggs, about the long term revenue potential of this show. Between this and Weeds, Lions Gate is certainly expanding the studio's TV expertise on the high end--attracting critical acclaim, and surely some Emmys as well. Beggs says that this is exactly the kind of show that will perform well on DVD--it's set in such a specific time, it's timeless--and that will sell well overseas.

Not a bad revenue stream for Lions Gate and an advertising front-runner. Certainly not the first show to run sponsored without interruptions. But next season if "Mad Men" never airs a commercial, that will set some serious precedent.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.