|AOL's brand will be placed throughout the 'World Series of Blackjack' programming.
AOL wanted a promotion that could span online, on-air and on-site.
"There are a select number of games that can do that," said Ralph Rivera, VP and general manager of AOL Games. "If people are passionate about it, they'll follow it across media." Blackjack fit the bill, he said, and provided AOL with the opportunity to create a competition and community around it. "We wanted to take a game link and turn it into a destination," he said.
AOL research has shown that users respond better to branded games than generic. The portal recently signed a deal with Harrah's casino for a "World Series of Poker."
AOL also wanted original and exclusive content. "We want to produce compelling programming to create a sustainable audience for our casino games area," Mr. Rivera said.
Instead of paying an integration fee, AOL will carve out large chunks of virtual real estate for GSN and the show. AOL is creating a blackjack area on its portal, where consumers can play blackjack free, get tips from pros and enter a sweepstakes to win a chance to play in the series.
Such deals are rare on network TV but are increasingly common on cable, as niche channels and their advertisers look for mutually beneficial ways to promote entertainment projects and brands.
The deal is not attached to a media buy, which rarely happens on network TV. AOL and GSN have worked together for a number of years, buying each other’s media to get in front of games-loving consumers.
“World Series of Blackjack,” the only blackjack tournament on TV, will start its third season in June with 13 one-hour episodes.
GSN will run on-air promotions during its “Casino Night” programming on Mondays that directs viewers to the new blackjack area on AOL. AOL, meanwhile, will hype “World Series of Blackjack” across sites that include AOL Games, AOL Television and AOL Vegas.
As a run-up to the new season, AOL has created a contest that will send players to Las Vegas for eight days to compete in a qualifying tournament. That game will be taped and aired exclusively on AOL. The two finalists will be among 40 players who will vie for $1 million at the Las Vegas Hilton.
The finalists from the AOL competition will be identified throughout the series as AOL-branded players.
The rest of the players will come from contests at various casinos around the country, where GSN is holding local and regional games.
It’s good event marketing for the network, said Dena Kaplan, GSN’s senior vice president of marketing.
“It’s a great offline, grassroots promotion for us that’s naturally integrated into the program,” Ms. Kaplan said. “The venues get exposure throughout the series.”
AOL and GSN have partnered on the ad sales around the promotion, also a rarity in brand integration deals. The two have a co-branded Web site for the show and will frequently refer on-air to the Web address.
“We talked to AOL about how they wanted to expand their brand,” said Joel Chiodi, GSN’s vice president of marketing and promotions. “And we worked to capitalize on their assets for our benefit.”
Aside from the AOL-branded players in the show, the online portal also will have high-profile signage like bumpers and billboards around the programming.
AOL also will tout other GSN programming, such as “Lingo” and “Ballbreakers,” on AOL Games.