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NEW YORK ( -- He’s the man who brought “reality” to TV, and now he’s intent on bringing it to the Web. Mark Burnett is behind not one, but two multimedia reality concepts in development for competing online portals, Yahoo and AOL. Just this morning comes the news that Mark Burnett Productions and AOL will develop a real-life reality treasure hunt to be called “Gold Rush.” Consumers will search for hidden treasure around the U.S. by tracking clues on, on TV, in print and through wireless messages.
Photo: AP
Mark Burnett

That sounds suspiciously similar to another online reality concept, “The Runner,” which will have consumers pursue a fugitive traveling between secret locations around the U.S via clues online. Burnett’s been helping develop the concept at Yahoo with LivePlanet, a production company co-founded by actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Burnett and LivePlanet originated the concept as a show in 2000 that was to run on broadcast network ABC, where it was a no-starter due to security issues and what the network saw as the logistical nightmare of filming all the action with hidden cameras. Not so coincidentally, current Yahoo entertainment chief Lloyd Braun was at ABC when “The Runner” was first developed.

On Jan. 16, The Wall Street Journal reported the Yahoo project as a "cross between a narrative video production and an online game: Consumers will be able to view regularly updated video clips of roughly three to five minutes in length through Yahoo’s site and try to solve online puzzles about the fugitive's real-world location.”

Of course, it’s no surprise that Burnett sees the future of his business as an interactive one. He’s already mined significant buzz and money for his marketing partners by employing the Web as part of his TV shows. “The Apprentice” and Yahoo have had several joint successes of selling out products that were featured as part of the reality show's contests, like when it offered for sale online an ice cream flavor created by the winning "Apprentice" team or a pair of Levi’s jeans featured on the show.

“You heard him fellas! There’s gold in dem thar Web sites! Advertising gold I tells you! And it’s mine! Alls mine! Yee-haw!”

Yahoo has spent half a year exploring whether “The Runner” will work, but reportedly has several other projects it is pursuing that may be launched in 2006, as Braun continues to search for his “I Love Lucy” moment for the Internet -- that is, the cultural mass media moment that signals the Web’s dominance. It seems Burnett believes that moment is nigh.

Here’s the canned quote that Burnett had included in the press release announcing “Gold Rush”: “The world is changing and the Internet is about to become the next broadcast network. With the volume of people able to watch content on their computers between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., it could very well become the new primetime. The immediate future will take advantage of content that utilizes television, print and the Internet in concert. AOL and I are embracing this immediate future through ‘Gold Rush.’”

Somehow this thought seems much more clear when we think of it in the voice of Bugs Bunny-nemesis Yosemite Sam: “You heard him fellas! There’s gold in dem thar Web sites! Advertising gold I tells you! And it’s mine! Alls mine! Yee-haw!”

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