The Biz: ABC turns into a spendosaurus

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ABC will air a risky and expensive three-day miniseries-the dinosaur extravaganza "Dinotopia"-during May sweeps. But unlike the marketing of other special sweeps programming, ABC's multimillion-dollar campaign is poised to launch the project as a long-term franchise.

The Walt Disney Co. network will put more resources behind "Dinotopia," including on-air promos as well as paid outdoor and radio media, than any other miniseries it has done. The network plans to spend $85 million in production and marketing for the six-hour program, which depicts two teenage boys who wash up on a mysterious island where humans and dinosaurs peacefully coexist.

long haul

Hallmark Entertainment, the producer of "Dinotopia," also plans a 13-episode "Dinotopia" series that will launch midseason on ABC. All this to help amortize the production costs, which include high-level computer-generated technology. Media executives say ABC could price a 30-second commercial in the $200,000 to $250,000 range, which is comparable to past ABC mini-series' rates.

"Eighty-five million dollars is not a normal amount to put toward a TV event," said Kelly Coogan Swanson, senior VP-marketing, Hallmark Entertainment. "That's why [Robert] Halmi [executive producer of `Dinotopia'] pegged it a mega-series."

It is also a mega-risk.

"It's very difficult to hold" viewers for multiday miniseries, Ms. Coogan Swanson said. Broadcast network executives don't like to air three-day series. If a program fails after the first night, networks and producers stand to lose a lot of money. Typical network sweeps programming pulls in an average 8 rating and a 15 share.

That's why ABC started the marketing campaign last year in May, when teaser clips ran during the network's season finales.

ABC took an interesting tack in the early promotions. "We never mentioned ABC," said Mike Benson, senior VP-marketing, advertising, and promotion, ABC Entertainment. All this, Mr. Benson noted, helped fuel curiosity.

Last November, ABC began to market the series more like a theatrical movie. A "Dinotopia" trailer ran in theaters before the blockbuster "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Theater lobbies were adorned with displays for "Dinotopia." More recently, ABC placed "Dinotopia" snack trays in theaters in Los Angeles and New York.

For "Dinotopia," ABC is targeting a dual audience: adults 18-49 (mostly parents) and kids 6-11. ABC will produce a special half-hour on its kids' programming block "One Saturday Morning" called "Discovering Dinotopia." ABC is also buying print in Gruner & Jahr USA's Child, Time Inc.'s Parenting and Disney's own Family Fun.

faux reality

For the adults, "Dinotopia" will be featured on the cover of TV Guide the week before the show's debut May 12. And just like it did for "Stephen King's Rose Red" movie in February (which averaged a 10.9 rating and a 22 share, the highest-rated miniseries this season, so far), ABC will do a faux documentary, called "Witness from Dinotopia."

Hallmark Entertainment has also done much to market this series-much more than TV producers normally do. Last fall, Hallmark made a Dinotopia float for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and has paid for two mega parties-one last week at New York City's Museum of Natural History.

Hallmark's sibling, Hallmark Cards, will include signs and promotional material in its 4,500 retail stores.

ABC also signed as a sponsor Energizer Holdings' Energizer battery brand. In addition to buying on-air media on ABC, Energizer will sponsor an online contest.

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