Game Show Network Plays 'Find the Product Plug'

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Inspired by the success of product placement in shows like American Idol
and its own programs, Game Show Network is going to upfront advertisers with a new proposition for sneaking products into its programs.

The cable net is plotting a Saturday-night block branded "Games Across America"
that mixes programming interstitials with some of the net's most popular shows, such as Crammed and Greed. (Think TBS Superstation's "Dinner and a Movie.")

The Games Across America shorts will feature a traveling correspondent—presumably driving a car from an automaker that has paid for the privilege—visiting some of the oddest American competitions, from the World Foosball Championships to the World Championships of Sand Sculpture. The shorts will air between commercial breaks during the three-hour block, which is scheduled for Saturdays from 9 p.m. to midnight ET starting in October.

"We can weave [products] into the programming when it makes sense," said network ad-sales chief Michael Sakin.

The network is courting automotive, beverage and fast-food companies to buy in, although no deals have been done yet.

Imagine the traveling reporter crisscrossing the country in a Ford Focus or Toyota Prius and stopping at Taco Bells to eat. The studio host can drink a Diet Dr Pepper, the way America Idol
personalities are never far from a Coca-Cola product placement.

When you're a middling cable network like Game Show—a 0.5-rated channel with 50 million homes—it takes some creativity to break through. "We're an independent and not fully penetrated," Sakin said. "We need to do things that are different from our competition."

Game Show is owned by Sony.

The network, which deals about half its ad inventory in the upfront, hopes to tie product placement into about 25% of those deals, Sakin said.

Earlier this year, Game Show sold General Motors' Saturn on product placement for its original show Crammed, with game players ferried around Los Angeles in the Crammed
car, a Saturn Ion.

But that product-placement deal had to be done in the scatter market because Crammed
wasn't ready for last year's upfront selling season. Creating a year-round Saturday-night block gives Sakin a schedule to sell in the upfront. "This is something we can do immediately," he said. "The events already exist." And Game Show already has the programming.

If any of the events are particularly compelling (the 26th Annual Bathtub Race could be a contender), Game Show could air a half-hour special of its coverage in the Saturday-night block (no doubt, American Standard has been notified).

Expect more product integration in future Game Show originals. Sakin is already pondering what kinds of sponsorships he can sell. "We're looking at more opportunities for automotive and wireless, like game play."