INTERACTIVE: MEDIA & MARKETING: COLUMBIA TRISTAR TEEN TV SHOW ADDS INTERACTIVE: DAWSON'S ONLINE WALKS A FINE LINE BETWEEN EDITORIAL AND COMMERCE

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Columbia tristar Interactive, a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment, next month will launch an ad-supported Web companion to its teen TV show "Dawson's Creek" that aims to influence the stories told on the TV program.

CTI aspires to advance beyond the precedent set by NBC, whose Internet spinoff of "Homicide" follows a separate cast of detectives online. NBC also created a new character for its online version of "The Pretender" who later joined the TV show. CTI plans to introduce more plot elements on Dawson's Desktop (www.dawsonscreek.com) that will carry into the TV program, and vice versa.

"We want to complement the show, to flow in and out of it-to drive viewers to the show but also offer a continuity program between new episodes and during the off-season," said Andrew Schneider, CTI's director of marketing. Dawson's Desktop editorial team reports to show producers.

SHOPPING FOR SPONSORS

CTI is shopping for a presenting sponsor and charter sponsors for the various areas of the site.

The Dawson's Desktop concept is to allow users access to the computer desktop of the show's main character, Dawson Leery, a budding filmmaker with raging adolescent hormones. Visitors are greeted with an animated introduction establishing characters and themes. The site segues into a recap of the most recent TV episode.

From the desktop, visitors can access Dawson's e-mail, check out what he's listening to on his CD player, browse his favorite bookmarked Web sites and read his screenplays (a Steven Spielberg fan, Dawson is penning a sequel to "E.T." called "E.T. 2000," which visitors can read). But CTI will likely have to seek third-party approval for the right to use "E.T." in this way on the site. Indicative of the elaborate design of the entire site, CTI is creating separate sites for the bookmarked section, such as one for the Chamber of Commerce of Dawson's fictitious home town.

The presenting sponsor will be touted on a page that appears after the show recap and before viewers are delivered to the desktop; in top position on the desktop's channel list of advertisers, fixed on the right side of the screen; in ad banners rotating throughout the site; in top bookmark placement in Dawson's Web browser; in an e-mail newsletter in Dawson's in-box; and via sponsorship of a sweepstakes promotion being developed.

CTI wouldn't disclose pricing, but is talking with soft-drink, automotive and apparel marketers. Given the nature of the site, technology advertisers are being targeted first, especially those that market Web browsers, software for chat applications and other computer desktop applications.

MUSIC COMPANIES COURTED

Music companies are being courted to stock Dawson's computer CD library. "We are walking an interesting line between what is commercial and what is editorial," Mr. Schneider said.

Dawson's Desktop deviates from what NBC is doing with "Homicide" and "The Pretender" in another way: NBC owns and broadcasts those shows, whereas Sony Pictures Entertainment's "Dawson's Creek" is broadcast by the WB Network.

At this stage, it hasn't been determined if Dawson's Desktop will mention the WB Network, nor is it known if the TV show will promote the Web site.

CTI executives said only that discussions with WB about those issues are taking place. However, an executive with knowledge of the plans said WB will not promote the Columbia site on-air.

DRAMATIC LEAP FORWARD

Dawson's Desktop presents a dramatic leap forward from other sites CTI produces for Sony shows, including "Party of Five" and "Wheel of Fortune."

The site and the TV show will overlap. For example, e-mails from other characters could set up situations or conflicts that are resolved on the show.

The chat function on the site can also tie into the show. Visitors who access this function can eavesdrop on online chats Dawson has with the show's other characters, or, potentially, characters introduced on Dawson's Desktop before they appear on the series.

CTI also plans to stage real-time chats with the show's characters and with the show's writers, supplying the characters' input. The goal is to create an environment that complements the TV entertainment, but there are other aspects that acknowledge the Web site is about a TV show.

Dawson's Desktop, for example, will ask fans to create their own fan Web pages within the site. Fans will be encouraged to write their own "Dawson's Creek" plot lines, but CTI executives said it is unlikely the show's writers will integrate fan-created content, given the legal issues.

MERCHANDISE PROMOTIONS

The site will promote other Sony entertainment: Expect to see Sony's online retail store (www.

sony.com/shopping) with "Dawson's Creek" merchandise, among Dawson's bookmarked sites.

CTI wants to make the desktop as authentic as possible. The movie posters in Dawson's bedroom in the series may be virtual wallpaper for the desktop if CTI can get licenses from the appropriate studios. If it can't, it's likely wallpaper posters will be for movies distributed by Sony's own studios.

"We've created a concept that we think can nicely integrate major brands into the entertainment," said Mr. Schneider.

Contributing: Chuck Ross

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