AOL Throws Its Own Upfront Event

Touts 'Gold Rush' and AOL's Link to TV Shows

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- AOL held its inaugural First Look event -- or upfront, as Time Warner President-Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Bewkes, called it -- at Jazz at Lincoln Center last night. And it was an upfront, complete with glitz and stunts and stars (B-level, at least): Dollar-bill-shaped confetti rained from the ceiling and Mario Lopez strutted out on stage to host a live version of the portal's quiz show "Gold Rush."
Randy Falco and Mark Burnett
Randy Falco and Mark Burnett Credit: Stephen Lovekin

AOL Media Networks President Mike Kelly earlier in the day told Advertising Age he expected at least 500 ad buyers in New York, and that the event would be broadcast to more than 1,000 people in satellite parties around the country. The guests, he noted, represented 70% of AOL's ad dollars.

Extending ad buys
While a big part of the program was devoted to covering upcoming programming opportunities on the portal, it also addressed ways marketers could extend ad buys they make on TV networks by working with AOL. The marketing tagline: Amplify your buy.

Lynda Clarizio, president of Advertising.com, AOL's third-party ad-serving network, and AOL Exec VP-Sales Kathy Kayse said buyers should consider how a show can have context outside of the broadcast network. AOL's section devoted to Fox's juggernaut "American Idol" already has had 42 million page views this season vs. 24 million views for all of last year, Ms. Kayse said. She added that many of the discussions and blogs about TV shows are not happening on the broadcast networks' websites. "The debate about ['American Idol' contestant] Sanjaya is not being led by AmericanIdol.com," she said.

Ms. Clarizio touted the reach and scale AOL has compared to the TV networks' online operations. For an advertiser buying spots on "Grey's Anatomy," she said, "we can use contextual targeting to reach those fans online and even relocate them as they travel across the AOL and Ad.com networks." She suggested demographic targeting as another way to extend the reach.

Trotting out Mark Burnett
The company trotted out a series of executives for the event, which ran shy of an hour, including newly installed CEO Randy Falco, who is largely credited with conceiving the AOL upfront, thanks to his years at NBC Universal. Ms. Clarizio and uber-reality-show producer Mark Burnett were on hand to introduce a series of "Shrek"-themed games released in cooperation with DreamWorks and the second version of "Gold Rush," the internet show that aired last year on AOL.

The programming introduced was heavy on quizzes and puzzles, vs. episodic series. One interesting contest, an Endemol-produced show called iLand that is set to premiere in the second quarter of 2008, strands contestants on a tropical island with only a laptop and internet access. It's not quite "Survivor," but there are a lot of social-networking elements attached to the show.

Mr. Kelly said the success of "Gold Rush" helped inspire AOL to host the event. "Can we line up other programs like that -- big-scale events with interactivity for consumer and brand integration for customers?" he said. "And can we organize the presentation of those similar to what a network would do?"
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