The Biz: ABC, MindShare looking for scripts

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The programming agreement inked last week between Walt Disney Co.'s ABC and WPP Group's MindShare has nothing to do with reality. Instead, MindShare advertisers will pony up funds to develop sitcoms and dramas for the Alphabet network.

"Prime-time scripted series is the focus," said Alex Wallau, president of ABC Television. "This is for developing new shows together."

For the most part, the Madison + Vine trend so far has most prominently involved advertisers striking deals to sponsor and integrate brands into reality shows-such as last week's latest example of Sears, Roebuck & Co., a MindShare client, becoming part of ABC's upcoming "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." In the larger MindShare/ABC deal, product placement and brand integration is not the primary consideration.

"Our objective is to develop, create and produce successful prime-time series programming," says Marc Goldstein, president-CEO MindShare North America. "If there are opportunities for brand integration, they will be secondary."

"This is a programming play," Wallau says. "It was not driven as much by creating an alternative to the 30-second spot business that we are in. It was really driven by an effort to address the cost of programming, the content, creating an environment that MindShare investors are comfortable with. We look at it as a new programming model that has a marketing component for MindShare, and gives us some commitment from the agency's clients."

no timetable

The deal was not developed through ABC's sales team, the usual route, but through its prime-time entertainment division, starting at the very top with Susan Lyne, president of ABC Entertainment. "I was deeply involved in these negotiations," Lyne says. "It's a great way to get a look at some fresh ideas in programming. The deal itself provides an architecture for us, should we decide to greenlight a production that MindShare brings in."

Is there a timetable for production? "Not yet," Lyne says. "We'll see what happens. Hopefully, they'll come up with something next year."

Lyne emphasizes that the deal is open-ended and not exclusive. If MindShare has a project it wants to take elsewhere, it can, she says. Also, the programming does not have to involve product placement. "This is really meant to get advertisers into the notion of producing programming," she says, while conceding it is a great benefit to the network because the advertisers will pay for development of programming. The cost of producing an average hour of TV drama is between $1.2 million to $1.5 million, according to a production company executive.

MindShare's emphasis on family programming is akin to the guiding objective of the Family Friendly Programming Forum, a consortium of advertisers including Sears, and Johnson & Johnson, that has had some success in funding hit shows like the WB's "Gilmore Girls" and ABC's "8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter."

At the very least, according to Goldstein, MindShare's clients will buy media in the programming. MindShare clients Sears and Unilever have expressed interest in participating, he says.

A spokesman for Sears says the "Extreme Makeover" deal is "a perfect fit" for the retailer and "a great opportunity for us to partner with a hot new show." But he adds those type of opportunities need not be limited to reality programming.

Marketers would share in profits, so there is a chance the money invested in productions will yield profits if the MindShare shows go into syndication, Wallau and Goldstein note.

Wallau adds that while his company and MindShare are not actively involved in a project yet, "after the first of the year, I'd be surprised if we were not."

Can MindShare cut deals in Hollywood?

"We can deal with the full gamut of the creative community in Hollywood, absolutely," Goldstein says.

"And by the way," Wallau chimes in, "we encourage that, because at the end of the day we need the best programming."

contributing: Mercedes M. Cardona

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