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For Advertisers, It's Showtime

Media buying giants MindShare and the Media Edge and Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, last week formed a joint venture that will create and produce TV programming to be used as promotional vehicles for the agencies' clients.

The scope of the initiative involving MindShare/Media Edge and Elisabeth Murdoch's London-based Shine Entertainment will be a bit broader than similar projects launched by Omnicom buying unit OMD and Interpublic's Universal McCann. Both of those agencies set up in-house units that have developed specials for the TV networks on which their clients have advertised. In the new venture, it will not be necessary to hire outsiders to produce each project since Shine Entertainment is itself a film and TV production company.

OMD has created and developed one-off specials, including a Dixie Chicks concert last November for NBC, a Backstreet Boys show for CBS last May and a Jennifer Lopez special scheduled for later this month on NBC. Those projects have involved OMD clients paying to produce the programming and then making time buys from the networks to air the shows.

The new effort, called Shine:M, is planning to develop and produce series programming such as reality shows, game shows or scripted programs to offer the networks. The deals could either involve time buys, or the networks could sell whatever ad time is not claimed by the primary sponsors.

An example of how this type of programming could be provided can be seen in ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. After ABC launched the show two years ago, Media Edge client AT&T was integrated into the program as one of the contestants' "lifeline" choices. Media Edge had to negotiate a fee with ABC to have the "call a friend" feature worked in.

In the Shine:M model, a program will be created and developed with such an advertising feature already integrated into the content before the show is shopped to a network.

The steadily rising cost of producing programming is causing the networks to examine nontraditional ways of getting shows on the air more economically.

At the same time, advertisers and their agencies are getting fed up with the growing amount of commercial clutter and are trying to find ways to get their clients' message to stand out. One way to do this has been having advertisers pay to get their products onto the sets of shows -- product placement. However, many advertisers have found that vehicle lacking in impact with viewers.

"This is not about product placement or logos," said David Pemsel, managing director of Shine:M. "This is about creating an audience via quality content to the benefit of brands and media owners."

Elisabeth Murdoch, who worked in assorted executive posts for News Corp.'s Fox Television and Fox Cable Networks before serving as managing director of her father's British Sky Broadcasting until her departure last year, said in a statement: "Advertiser-supported programming is not an entirely new concept and has taken on many guises. However, Shine:M will provide a new way for advertisers to connect with their consumers, by articulating their brand values through editorial content and creating platforms upon which they can extend their effectiveness.

"Broadcasters are actively looking for financial partners to support their programming," Murdoch continued. "Shine:M is uniquely positioned to act as the bridge between broadcasters and advertisers by providing marketing and television production expertise under one roof."

The venture was put together by Murdoch and Martin Sorrell, president of WPP, parent of MindShare and the Media Edge .

A MindShare executive who would not speak for attribution said that while "it's a long way off" before Shine:M begins producing programming, the agency wanted to move now toward having an ownership stake in some network shows as an alternative to simply buying ad time on them.

Will the networks become more receptive to acquiring programming or formats with advertiser messages already built in? One broadcast network sales executive noted that the involvement of MindShare and its chairman, Irwin Gotlieb, should work to Shine:M's advantage. The networks "will have to look at this because everyone will be afraid that if they don't listen to Irwin's pitch, he'll go somewhere else."

In summer 1990, CBS was reluctant to pay for the development of a new drama series, Northern Exposure. Gotlieb, then head of media buying service TeleVest (now MediaVest), offered guaranteed ad revenue from client Procter & Gamble if CBS produced and aired the show. Northern Exposure became a hit and played on CBS for six seasons.

The combined buying clout of MindShare and Media Edge, which represent clients who spend more than $2 billion annually on U.S. television, should help persuade the networks to listen to Shine:M's pitches.

The time-buy model may offer the best potential for Shine:M to get its projects on the air, the network sales executive said. "The networks will accept this type of programming if it is a time buy," the exec said. "This will save us production costs and will help our profit picture."

Programming produced by advertiser-affiliated companies like Shine:M could help fill time periods on low-viewership nights, like Saturday, or during daytime. "Instead of running repeat movies like ABC and NBC are doing now on Saturday nights, they could buy two hours' worth of programming," the sales executive said. "There are a lot of possible land mines, but we will be seeing a lot more business being done this way."


John Consoli, Mediaweek. November 5, 2001

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