JOE O'DONNELL BETTING ON 24-HOUR INFOMERCIAL NET

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It may be fodder for the likes of Jay Leno and Dave Letterman, a nothing-but-infomercials 24-hour cable channel, but to the creator of Consumer Resource Network, former J. Walter Thompson Co. Chairman Joe O'Donnell, it's serious business.

Already signed on as charter advertisers for CRN are Ford Motor Co., Fidelity Investments, State Farm Insurance Co. and Schering-Plough.

The network will make its debut Dec. 1 on a Colorado Springs, Colo., cable system, and will add systems in Fairfax, Va., and a third, undisclosed market by Jan. 2, giving it access to nearly 400,000 households.

"We've lined up a group of like-minded companies, who intellectually are making great contributions and have the resources and credibility to help get this off the ground," Mr. O'Donnell said.

CRN is being positioned as "informational" programming sponsored by corporate marketers to distance it from more typical hard-sell infomercials.

Unlike most infomercials, which run randomly in late-night or weekend hours, CRN will develop a regular schedule promoted to cable subscribers in billing statements and elsewhere.

CRN will charge less for blocks of time than most infomercial marketers pay in the open market, with a minimum sponsorship level for the yearlong test priced at about $200,000.

Charter sponsors will share research and other data gleaned through a separate toll-free number set up by the network to handle inquiries.

"In effect it will be our own channel," said Michael Hines, senior VP-marketing at Fidelity.

Fidelity will run its existing half-hour infomercial on investment strategies, produced by Hudson Street Partners, New York, and will add and re-edit footage for an hourlong version of the advertisement.

Ford is running 4 hours of daily programming, including a show on preventive maintenance for cars and trucks.

State Farm's program explains different life insurance products, and Schering-Plough promotes its over-the-counter products in segments about allergies.

CRN's parent is the Seventh Medium, a joint venture established by Mr. O'Donnell and Visual Services, a Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based marketing services company.

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