%%STORYIMAGE_LEFT%%LOS ANGELES -- In one of its first full-scale brand integration deals, cable channel GSN will embed pop country crossover star LeAnn Rimes and her new record, along with Cadbury Schweppes' Diet Dr Pepper, Santa Anita Park and the Daily Racing Form, into an upcoming reality show about thoroughbred racing.
The show, dubbed American Dream Derby and described as Seabiscuit meets The Apprentice, launches its eight-week run Jan. 10. It is the first reality show to be based in the world of horse racing, and a race is incorporated into each episode.
The show's 12 contestants will work with established horse trainers and learn about racing, the care and training of thoroughbreds and handicapping. The winner gets $250,000 and the stable of 15 horses. The show's finale will be aired live, another first, with the outcome up in the air until the last moments.
Diet Dr Pepper showdown
Diet Dr Pepper is the title sponsor, with the brand integrated into the episodes, which include a showdown between contestants called the "Diet Dr Pepper Moment." Santa Anita Park, a 70-year-old race track outside Los Angeles, provided the venue, and the Daily Racing Form produced custom versions of its newspaper to teach the contestants about statistics and handicapping. All the partners are working to market the show, both on-air and through online, direct mail, public relations and other consumer outreach.
The timing of the show couldn't be better for Ms. Rimes, whose new record comes out Jan. 25 on Asylum-Curb Records; the first single, "Nothin' 'Bout Love Makes Sense," already is a top 20 country hit on the Billboard charts. She joins a number of artists in varied genres who are increasingly looking for alternative means of exposure for their music and taking a business-savvy approach to working with retailers, sponsors and media.
Her involvement in American Dream Derby is but one of her upcoming TV connections. She's also hosting the third season of talent-search reality show Nashville Star on the USA Network for a 10-week run starting in March.
TV trumps radio for pop stars
"TV networks spend more money on marketing than record companies do," said Scott Welch, Ms. Rimes' manager and owner of Scott Welch Management. "Radio's lost most of its power -- TV is still the strongest medium. And this is an opportunity for someone to put marketing money into my client."
Ms. Rimes, a two-time Grammy winner who owns her own horse, co-wrote the song that will be used as the theme for American Dream Derby. It's the second single from the record called "This Woman." She'll appear in three of the series' episodes, including the finale, where she'll perform the theme song.
"This is very integrated, very targeted, very seamless," said Joel Chiodi, GSN's executive director for marketing and promotions. "It's atypical of what an artist might have done in the past, but when you hear the song, you realize it belongs in the show. And she's the perfect person to be aligned with the show."
Her presence ratchets up interest in the show, Mr. Chiodi said, and the two are working to promote each other throughout their consumer communications.%%PULLQUOTE_RIGHT%%
Extensive marketing effort
The marketing around American Dream Derby will be the most extensive campaign ever launched by GSN, formerly Game Show Network, executives said. The campaign includes spot cable buys in some 20 markets, DirecTV and Dish ads, spot radio, print in entertainment and sports magazines, affiliate promotions and broad Web buys. The ads, a mix created in-house by Seiniger Advertising and The Ant Farm, both in L.A., are aimed at racing enthusiasts and reality show fans.
Sweepstakes are also being used to promote the show. One sends winners to the Kentucky Derby in May, while another sends someone to the American Dream Derby finale on Feb. 21. Interactive elements let viewers play along, and text messages will give digital players tips and behind-the-scenes info.
"We've tried to capture the majesty of horse racing and pair that with the drama of an elimination-style reality show," said Dena Kaplan, GSN's senior vice president of marketing.
It's up to the horse
Executive producer Scott Stone, of Stone & Company Entertainment, said he tried to incorporate elements of sports, trivia games, stunts and reality. "We wanted it to be a game of skill, not just chance," he said. "There's never been a reality show where people place their future on the back of a horse. No one will know the outcome -- the horse will determine."
The contestant who learned the most, and made the best decisions about the thoroughbreds, will win.