Americast cable service kicks off brand campaign

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"TV is good" was ABC's message to America in its controversial tongue-in-cheek 1997 "Yellow" campaign. Now Americast -- a joint venture cable service from ABC parent Walt Disney Co., Ameritech, BellSouth Corp., GTE Corp. and SNET -- will go a step further to tell consumers TV is great.

Very quietly late last year, Artustry Partnership, a hybrid creative agency and production company, won the Americast account, with spending estimated at $20 million. The New York-based shop is run by President David Sklaver, the former president of now-defunct Wells, Rich, Greene, and commercial director Bob Giraldi.

Artustry has produced a branding campaign called "Great TV Nights" that breaks this week across the country. The work, produced before the current actors' strike, was created by copywriter Dan Mountain, the scribe behind ads for General Motor Corp.'s Saturn Corp. and Apple Computer, among others, and Mr. Giraldi, who functioned both as art director and spot director.

GLUED TO THE TUBE

Three commercials, set to air in 60 markets primarily in the Midwest, Southeast and West, feature quiet moments with viewers sitting in front of their TVs, staring as if hypnotized. An angelic choir soars on the sound track as the camera sweeps across brothers and sisters, couples, a sports fanatic, and old folks. The lighting is deep and rich, an attempt to make the TV set seem like the home's "hearth place." Voice-over sails through motivational lines: "There are still heroes. There are still stories. There are still moments that take your breath away. In fact, these days there are not less of them but more of them; waiting for you every night in the company of whomever you share them with."

Voice-over for another ad goes like this: "We are moved. We are taken. We are amused. We are swept away. We are together again. And this is only Tuesday."

PHONE CARRIERS, PARTNERS

Americast is an alternative cable system that customers can purchase through the phone carrier company partners in the venture. Disney is a content provider, meaning Disney shows will appear on the network, but programming will not be exclusively Disney; programming from ESPN and other TV networks will also appear on Americast. R-rated shows will be among the programs telecast via Americast, so Disney will not fix its imprimatur on the network.

Americast launched in 1995 as an ambitious new cable system operated by local Baby Bells. The idea called for original programming, but the service could not find enough subscribers to support that vision, and has since been operating as a vehicle for programming from a potpourri of content suppliers. SBC Communications, the parent of Ameritech, has been exploring the sale of its portion of the service -- which serves the Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, area -- because of its high maintenance costs.

AGENCY SEARCH

Americast's advertising was initially handled on a project basis by the shop then known as DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, and was subsequently moved over to Ammirati Puris Lintas, before the agency's merger with Lowe & Partners. The account faded into inactivity at Ammirati. Last year, Americast began searching for another agency, contacting several undisclosed shops before turning to Artustry.

"Americast came to us," Mr. Sklaver said. "They liked our business model, which is all about putting together creative teams on specific projects."

Messrs. Sklaver and Giraldi launched Artustry in 1998, spinning it off Mr. Giraldi's Giraldi Suarez commercial production company as a boutique advertising shop based on a production company model. Artustry hires independent talent for jobs to lower costs and maximize flexibility; billings are estimated at $60 million.

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