AOL Holds First Upfront

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AOL held its first-ever upfront show for advertisers today, bidding to convince traditional media buyers and their clients to bring their dollars to an Internet company.

Led by Randy Falco, the former NBC senior executive, who joined AOL as Chairman/CEO last year, executives showed the crowd five multi-media projects headlined by big Hollywood production companies and open for product integration.

The new programs include a second season of the Mark Burnett-produced online treasure hunt Gold Rush, a suite of games based on DreamWorks Animation’s new Shrek movie and an island-set social networking competition designed by reality powerhouse Endemol USA.

“We’re bringing forward an offering that I really think is very differentiated in the marketplace,” says AOL Media Networks Senior VP Janet Balis. “What distinguishes what we’re sharing today is the scale of these opportunities and fact they’re created from the bottom up to create engaging opportunities for our consumers and unique opportunities for our advertisers.”

The projects are slated to premiere between now and second quarter of 2008, leaving plenty of time for interested advertisers to gain marquee placement. AOL is looking to sign a handful of sponsors for each show, but only one per product category per program, Balis says.

This new Gold Rush Goes Hollywood installment will premiere in September and run for seven weeks as a daily interactive game show for a $1 million prize. AOL is currently shopping it to last year’s sponsors, including T-Mobile, Best Buy and Chevrolet.

Burnett, along with DreamWorks Animation, is also offering a suite of 25 games based on the upcoming third installment of the Shrek movie. The games, collectively called Ye Olde Shrek the Third Royal Tournament, will premiere April 26 and run for six weeks. Sara Lee, which sponsored a similar AOL game tied to last year’s animated film Flushed Away, has signed on as a sponsor.

Endemol USA and AOL have paired on iLand, a social networking game where participants compete on a virtual island. The show is set for second quarter, 2008 premiere with Baywatch actress Brook Burns signed on as host.

AOL held its upfront at a time when TV advertising is flat and online advertising is steadily growing (http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6433705.html). Internet spending is projected to grow by 13.4%, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

“All of these programs deliver tremendous scale,” Baylis told B&C. “They’re all constructed with multimedia platforms that involve components other than online and they all contain very significant branded entertainment opportunities where we organically integrate our clients’ brands.”

Other projects include Million Dollar Bill, a series of online/TV short games in which consumers can win $1 million by revealing dollar bills’ serial numbers; and an online tie-in to The Ellen Degeneres Show, in which viewers can create online scrapbooks of text, photos and videos.

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