For the new "Spirit of Enterprise" series, marketers from AT&T Corp. to Anheuser-Busch to American Express Co. have been sold packages that give them a unique role-including veto power-in the editorial product. They also get certain ownership rights in exchange for footing part of the bill.
In addition, the marketers have agreed to buy ad time during the series, but not during the hourlong episode about their own company.
COMPANIES CAN BACK OUT
In return for access to company archives, each corporation can, at any point in the process, kill the show about itself and back out of the deal if the company doesn't like the editorial focus.
Likewise, if the History Channel objects to how a company wants itself portrayed, it can scrap the episode.
The series is the brainchild of Whitney Goit, exec VP-sales and marketing at History Channel parent Arts & Entertainment Networks. Mr. Goit downplayed the controversial nature of the setup for the 17.9 million subscriber channel, saying, "Are we going to do whitewashed profiles? Not at all. Most of these companies have had rough spots and the programs will deal with them."
NOT AN INFOMERCIAL
Said an AT&T spokesman: "The show about us will not be an infomercial disguised as a documentary. It will be an honest program about our unique standing in American culture."
Another reason Mr. Goit said he's not worried about the companies killing the shows is that "they will be balanced. But will they be positive stories? I hope so. TV, generally, is hard on business."
The History Channel's sister network, A&E, recently telecast on its "Biography" series the stories of brand-name billionaires, from Henry Ford to Conrad Hilton.
"But what we did there was just group a bunch of documentaries we already had under a themed heading," said A&E VP-Public Affairs Greg Jones.
The rights for each show will, for the most part, revert to the profiled company.
"They can use it for vendor and employee relations, home video, future TV airing, whatever," Mr. Goit said, adding that "when you factor in all the dollars and work, it's a 50/50 partnership with each company."
Boeing Co. and E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. are the other corporations in the project. The series debuts later this year.