ABC Slates Pepsi Show/Sweepstakes

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ABC has signed on for this year's installment of Pepsi's "Play for a Billion" sweepstakes, taking over from The WB Television Network.

ABC will cross-promote the contest on its air, as will Pepsi in its products, with a guaranteed $1 million winner given a shot to turn that into $1 billion on national TV (ABC, Sept, 12, at 8 p.m.). Viewers to ABC's sitcoms will be given a different buzzword to look for and use to register for the contest at www.abc.com.

"The unrivaled combination of Pepsi, ABC and the chance to win a billion dollars is a promotional dream come true, sure to attract big-time attention with TV's largest potential jackpot ever," said Mike Benson, senior VP of Marketing, ABC Entertainment.

The WB, which partnered with Pepsi last year, also had looked for big numbers from the show.

"Drew [Carey] is the perfect host for what we think will be the biggest event in our history," said Jordan Levin, The WB's entertainment president, last year in announcing the host of the special.

The show proved far from it, however. When it aired Sept. 14, 2003, at 8 p.m., it managed a 2.7 rating/4 share in households, failing even to be among the network's top two shows of the week. That honor went to an episode of Reba (3.0/6) followed by Seventh Heaven (3.0/5).

Pepsi offered it to The WB again this year, which says it took a pass.

No word on whether ABC will also use a chimp to pick the winner. Insurance companies underwriting the Pepsi/WB gamble last year reportedly were concerned about using a human, so The WB used a chimp, Mr. Moneybags, to pick the winning number.

ABC has a couple of things going for it that The WB didn't, however. The WB came late to the party last year, so Pepsi's early tune-in promotion had simply said something to the effect of "watch for an upcoming television special." ABC also has more eyeballs to promote to on most weeks than The WB.

In addition, this year yahoo.com has partnered with the effort and will promote it on its highly trafficked Web site.

Damon Wayans, host of ABC's My Wife & Kids, will host the September special, which will be produced by Michael Davies, producers of ABC's hit big bucks reality show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

 Wayans will also  be featured in an ad from BBDO promoting the contest, which will begin airing next week.

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