If "I Am Cait," the reality TV show documenting the transformation of former Olympian Bruce Jenner into a woman named Caitlyn, had debuted a few years ago, Comcast's E! Network might have struggled to attract advertisers. But times have changed.
A source familiar with the marketing around the show, which debuts July 26, said potential advertisers are showing considerable interest in the program.
"I will guarantee you ...that there will be increased demand for the show" from advertisers, added Shari Anne Brill, CEO of media strategy and consulting firm Shari Anne Brill Media. "The premiere of this show will probably the highest rated show that E! has seen in a long time. Clearly, there is money to be made."
A spokeswoman for E! declined to say who it is lining up as advertisers, explaining that the network leaves it up to brands to disclose their association with a particular show. But marketers clearly seem intrigued about "I Am Cait," recognizing it as a major media event.
Jenner debuted her new look in Vanity Fair this month and traffic to the magazine's website hit more than 9 million unique viewers, the most in its history. Jenner also gained 1 million Twitter followers in four hours, topping a record held by President Obama.
Jenner first won fame for winning the gold medal for the decathlon in the 1976 Olympics. In recent years, he re-entered the public eye thanks to "Keeping Up With The Kardashians," which has been one of the most popular reality shows ever since debuting 2007. Rumors about Jenner's gender identity have been tabloid fodder for years, and media interest in the story reached fever pitch after Jenner discussed the issue in an April interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer.
Most TV commercial time is sold based on audience demographics, though advertisers can choose to keep their brands from being associated with a particular program if they want. Advertising sold for a particular programs is available at premium prices.
"You might get some advertisers who might feel a little bit uncomfortable being in a show with this content," said Brad Adgate, a senior vice president with Horizon Media, which other services advises advertisers on shows. "Others won't have an issue with it at all."
The story of Jenner's transition has enraged some people. Writing on conservative commentator Glenn Beck's site The Blaze, blogger Matt Walsh said that calling Jenner a woman "is an insult to women," and also blasted ESPN for award her its Courage Award.
"It's just wrong. Disgusting, frankly," he wrote. "While I feel sympathy for Bruce's psychological struggles, it's selfish to do this to your children. First to take their father from them, and then to coerce them into dealing with such a devastating development in front of the whole world."
Survey show that many transgender people have faced discrimination in the workplace and in other areas of their lives.
But that, too, may be changing. The Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization, found that in 2002, only 3 percent of Fortune 500 companies had gender identity protections for employees. Today, 66 percent offer such safeguards.
About a third also provide what HRC calls "transgender inclusive" health coverage that provides medically necessary treatments such as hormone therapy, mental health counseling and lab visits. That represents a sea-change from previous years, when fewer companies offered this benefit, said Deena Fidas, director of the HRC's Workplace Equality Program.
"We have seen a dramatic shift there in terms of businesses saying, 'Hey we don't want our insurance practices to wrongly discriminate against a portion of workforce.'," she said.