CBS VIEWERS' ONLINE VOTES TO JUDGE SKATER RANKINGS

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CBS next month will air a prime-time figure skating competition that will ask viewers to pick the winners.

In one of the most extensive uses of interactivity, viewers will be asked to sign on to an Internet site to vote for their favorite performances by professional skaters Kristi Yamaguchi, Ekaterina Gordeeva, Kurt Browning, Katarina Witt and a host of other skaters, including, perhaps, Scott Hamilton.

A phone component for voting also is being explored.

`GREAT SKATE DEBATE'

All of the performances and the voting will take place live March 27 from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET, in a show dubbed "The Great Skate Debate."

Viewers, as well as a live audience of about 5,000 people at the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion, where the skaters will perform, will vote their opinions as if they were the official judges, after each skater finishes.

"We're looking for a title sponsor for the show, most likely in the telecommunications or computer fields," said Bob Horowitz, senior VP-TV sales and programming for co-producer Trans World International. TWI is the TV wing of International Management Group, best known for representing sports stars.

TITLE SPONSOR GETS 8 SPOTS

TWI and Diamond Sports have sold the show to CBS on a license-fee basis, but the title sponsor will get eight 30-second spots during the show, Mr. Horowitz said.

CBS will get revenue for the spots, to come out of the $1.4 million Mr. Horowitz is looking for from a title sponsor.

The title sponsor will be the only marketer to get signage on rink boards, and will be able to direct visitors to its own Web site to link to the voting site.

To make sure the estimated 18% of the viewing audience in the Pacific time zone gets to participate, Mr. Horowitz said all of the skaters, and the announcers, will stay over when the show is rebroadcast 3 hours later.

"That way we can incorporate the votes of the West Coast in their feed of the show, announce them and show the skaters reaction," he said. The skaters' actual performances on the ice, however, will not be repeated.

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