ADVERTISERS TAKE ROLE AS TV SHOW PRODUCERS

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Television Program Partners, a band of top network TV advertisers, has achieved its goal of becoming a new "studio" to develop TV programming for advertisers.

Only a concept nearly two years ago, TPP has now formalized its structure with five charter members: AT&T, Clorox Co., General Motors Corp., McDonald's Corp. and Sony Corp.

Coca-Cola Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. also are expected to join, and the consortium is working with other advertisers on an a la carte project basis, including companies in the package-goods and athletic footwear categories.

Procter & Gamble Co. and Nabisco Brands, for example, are joining TPP member Clorox in underwriting the group's first network TV project, "The World Music Awards," designed to be an annual special, which will air on ABC during the May sweeps.

The three advertisers have committed to buy half the commercial inventory in the show, enough to cover ABC's entire licensing fee. ABC retains the remaining 50% of the ad time for its own sales.

"It's all profit for ABC," said Jack Myers, president of Myers Communications, Parsippany, N.J., and a TPP principal.

Mr. Myers said the "World Music Awards" demonstrates the basic model by which TPP plans to operate, though each deal may vary depending on the project.

By pooling the marketers' ad dollars, TPP underwrites program development, taking the risk off the producer and the network.

In return, consortium members get a reduced ad rate for their media buy, gain equity options in the program, and participate in the back end of the show, including ownership of a program library or merchandising and licensing related to the show.

"We think it represents an opportunity to expand spending in the television area," said Phil Guarascio, general manager, marketing and advertising for GM's North American Operations. "While there are risks involved, they are prudent risks."

"We are looking at this for the cost efficiencies," said Mike Neavill, AT&T media director. "... We believe they can deliver programming at less cost than other program providers."

While program content is an issue for the advertisers involved in TPP, their primary motivation is reducing the costs inherent in developing network TV shows.

"When producers hear we are representing advertisers, they come in thinking this is the `Hallmark Hall of Fame' and that they're going to get [paid] a premium for this," said David Houle, president of Houle & Associates, Chicago, and a principal of TPP. "It's just the opposite. If they want to work with us, it has to be cost efficient."

Mr. Houle said TPP will initially invest conservatively, spending "tens of millions of dollars" over the next 18 months developing a wide range of mostly one-time-only programs such as specials, movies and awards shows.

TPP is developing a 1-hour action/adventure series as a possible summer replacement series for 1995. Other definite projects include "The Hank Aaron Story," a made-for-TV movie that will air on TBS April 8 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Mr. Aaron's home run record.

TPP also has a commitment from ABC to air the "Women of the Year Awards," an annual awards special that will make its debut early next year.

TPP is negotiating with the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to produce an annual network TV special based on the Sports Emmy Awards, which currently aren't televised. Movies of the week and miniseries are also being developed.

AT&T's Mr. Neavill said TPP's appeal is that it aggregates the spending power of a group of advertisers to do things that they might be reluctant to invest in individually.

"We're not interested in having AT&T sponsor an entire property," he said. "The advantage that TPP offers is that a lot of different advertisers take a part of the action."

To the extent that AT&T has equity in TPP projects, he said, the company would reinvest those profits into lowering the costs of other programs being developed.

But TPP's Mr. Myers said the real impact of having a group of advertisers working together on program development may be in their ability to cross-promote the programs once they get on the air.

He said TPP plans to develop integrated promotion marketing strategies for the programs, so they can generate higher ratings and a greater return on the investment for the advertisers.

One working concept is "America's Brands Theater," a regularly scheduled prime-time programming showcase that would be highly identified with and promoted by its TPP sponsors.

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