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INTERACTIVE;SONY SEEKS BIG-BUCKS SPONSORS FOR WEB SITE;ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY ASKS UP TO $1 MIL FOR BROAD-BASED TIE-IN THAT GOES BEYOND BANNERS

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Sony corp. of America is wooing marketers with pricey sponsorships of its Sony Station Web site that are more than banners and buttons.

For $500,000 to $1 million, marketers will get a one-year exclusive association with an area of the Web site-and the freedom to design a wide-ranging presence that could include shared customer databases, product placement, specially created content and transaction opportunities.

SUPER BOWL CACHET

"This is a [TV] network online," said Matt Rothman, VP of Sony New Technologies and one of the primary architects of Sony Station, scheduled to open at the current Sony Online address (http://www.sony.com) later this quarter. "The cachet value is enormous-akin to the Super Bowl."

It remains to be seen whether marketers will ante up Super Bowl-proportion prices to participate in one Web site, however.

Marketers and agencies are becoming increasingly frustrated with the current Web advertising model: rectangular banners that, when clicked, take a user to an advertiser site. But they also say they've gone beyond the stage of committing a lump sum to one interactive project.

"The initial wave of investment for the sake of learning is over," said Hunter Madsen, senior partner and director of J. Walter Thompson/i.e. (short for interactive enterprise), San Francisco.

A DESTINATION ON THE WEB

Sony's pitch to marketers is as much qualitative as quantitative.

Sony believes its site will become one of the premier destinations on the Web. It will boast a three-dimensional interface (designed by CKS Interactive, Cupertino, Calif.), regularly scheduled live programming and a sophisticated transaction system built with partner Visa International.

Visitors entering Sony Station will navigate through various "pavilions" depicting content areas covering electronics, movies, music, merchandise, interactive hardware/software and other Sony products. Sony also is designing 15 real-time Web programs based on the company's TV properties, such as "The Dating Game."

Advertising is "not just banners and buttons. It is going to be involvement marketing," said Peter Sealey, executive consultant to Sony New Technologies and leader of Sony Station's marketing efforts.

Sony will offer other, less expensive ad opportunities, such as a smaller presence in several pavilions. What it won't do, Mr. Rothman said, is create a rate card.

INTRIGUED BUT NOT SOLD

Agency executives are intrigued, but not necessarily sold on Sony's idea.

"There's got to be both a qualitative and quantitative component to this," said Dick Hackenberg, interactive account director on client Nissan Motor Cars USA at TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif. (The agency also handles Sony's PlayStation videogame system account.) "If those numbers [the sponsorship price] work based on a quantitative analysis, we'd certainly consider it."

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