'They Have to Do Things That Are Out of the Box' Says Media Buyer

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LOS ANGELES ( -- TV networks' latest variation on "Don't touch that dial" includes a crop of vignettes, micro-mini movies and other bits of between-show
N-Gage has produced a series of between-show mini entertainments promoting its gaming phone.
entertainment meant to keep viewers' attention focused on marketer messages in places other than traditional ad spots.

Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, which tested micro-mini movies this summer during prime time, plans to produce more of the three-minute serialized shorts for later in the season. The three existing micro-mini movies will re-air on ABC Family and possibly other sibling networks. Procter & Gamble Co. sponsored the micro-minis, which were produced through ABC's Talent Development Program, an internal group of budding writers and directors. (NBC experimented last year with its sponsor-less One-Minute Movies, but has no immediate plans to resurrect them for the upcoming season.)

Taking a 60-second risk
Though cable has led the way, observers believe it's only a matter of time before broadcast networks start producing more between-show entertainment. Networks have taken a page from cable's playbook on airing limited series, multiple runs and now between-show entertainment, says Shari Anne Brill, vice president and director of programming at Aegis Group's Carat USA, New York. "They have to do things that are out of the box, and it's easier to take risks with something that's a minute in length."

Cable networks are among the most active, with GSN, FX and Cartoon Network creating mini-vignettes to bulk up their destination programming blocks. "Cable has done it earlier, but the industry always catches up with itself," says Chris Klopp, senior vice president and brand media director at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, New York. "The key is to do it in ways that don't overwhelm the viewer."

Monster's 'Office Romance'
Disney-owned Soapnet got its first sponsor for its one-minute films: is behind the series "Office Romance." The story unfolds over six weeks, with a new cliffhanger episode each Monday; it started Aug. 2. A related contest off-channel is called "The Monster Ultimate Job Soapnet CEO Sweepstakes." It gives a winner a chance to run Soapnet for a day.

"It's a terrific opportunity to extend the brand. ... It gives us a way to demonstrate experientially how Monster works," says Klopp; Deutsch is Monster's ad agency. will sponsor a fall series of one-minute soaps that revolve around a blind date set up through the online dating service. The alliances with hip online companies help build the network's brand as a home for contemporary working women, says Deborah Blackwell, Soapnet's general manager.

On-demand viewing
"We're very cognizant that the on-demand viewing world is coming," Blackwell says. "We want to experiment, and we know that advertisers don't want to be confined to just buying spots."

Comcast's G4techTV recently created a series of eight 30-second spots for its client Nokia to hype the marketer's new N-Gage gaming phone. The intentionally cheesy "King of the Office" spots pitted workers against each other on the N-Gage in an elimination-style face-off. Viewers responded by flooding the network with message-board entries and downloading the vignettes from the G4techTV and Nokia Web sites.

Fewer ads
Hallmark Channel, which cut the number of ads to four minutes from 12 minutes during its movies to provide a better platform for marketers, is running behind-the-scenes vignettes for Hollywood studios. The 60-second campaigns aim to give insight into the film and brand the network as a place for storytelling, says Bill Abbott, Hallmark's executive vice president of national ad sales. It is airing an "Inside Story" short for Disney's Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement across its schedule.

"The 30-second business is still robust," Abbott says, "but we're very much in the game of trying to provide solutions to advertisers beyond that."

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