Men's mags game for Xbox

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It's not only the gamers who are stoked in anticipation of Microsoft Corp.'s Nov. 8 Xbox videogame console launch. The predominantly male consumer magazines targeted by the software giant could reap a much-needed ad revenue boost in an otherwise lackluster year.

Microsoft issued a request for proposal letter last week to a group of magazines that target the 16-to-26-year-old male demographic it hopes to reach with ads for the Xbox, according to people familiar with the matter. Among the consumer magazines believed to have received the RFP are Fairchild Publications' Details, Dennis Publishing's Stuff and Maxim, Bob Guccione Jr.'s Gear and at least several other titles. The letter, issued Aug. 7, requested that proposals be turned around by close of business Aug. 9. Magazines were asked to submit plans that would take them from the November launch through May or June 2002. The first ads would likely appear in November monthlies hitting the stands Oct. 15.

The letter asked magazines to provide detailed information on ad pricing and positioning, merchandising and packaging, data on the composition of their audience and the percentage of that audience that Microsoft would designate as "hard-core gamers"-the majority of whom are male and play console games at least 10 to 12 hours a week. A Microsoft executive did not immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment on the RFP. Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, handles advertising for the Xbox; sibling Universal McCann is responsible for media buying and planning.

While the global ad and marketing budget for the Xbox is $500 million, stretched over 12 months at least, the consumer print media portion of that budget could not be determined. In fact, people close to the situation told Advertising Age that media plans remain a moving target as Microsoft and McCann fine-tune budgets. Microsoft is expected to run two simultaneous campaigns for Xbox, one for the console and one for individual flagship games such as "Halo." Consumer print magazines are expected to carry both.

Magazines could use the infusion from Xbox. Ad pages among the 249 consumer magazines audited by Publishers Information Bureau slid 11.7% through July. According to PIB, the male consumer magazines that Microsoft will target are suffering from the advertising slowdown. For example, Gear saw 167.3 ad pages from January-July compared with 200.9 for the same period in 2000. ESPN The Magazine, a joint venture of the Walt Disney Co. and Hearst magazines, scored 713.81 ad pages for the period, compared to the 836.39 pages it racked up last year.

According to the PIB, the Electronic and Video Games and Software category (excluding PC and Internet software), reached 261.5 pages for the January-July period to hit $13.9 million, compared to the 294.5 pages in 2000 or $14.7 million.

Analysts expect the Xbox console and related game software, along with Nintendo Corp.'s forthcoming GameCube to lift the fourth quarter and the nearly $7 billion interactive entertainment industry.

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