NBC show mixes trivia, shopping

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NBC is after a bigger piece of the home-shopping action. And the plan may give the magazine business a huge boost as well.

The network has given a 13-episode commitment to "On the Cover," a quiz show that will ask contestants trivia questions about popular culture.

Essentially combining the power of NBC's network TV presence and NBCi.com on the Internet, the producers of "On the Cover" plan a transactional element as a major part of the show-the sale of magazine subscriptions, as well as books, music CDs, movie DVDs and other merchandise.

In other words, NBC and the series creators of "On the Cover" think they could have the electronic equivalent of Publishers Clearinghouse.

NBC isn't new to home shopping. It's an investor in ValueVision International, which operates a home-shopping channel; ValueVision this spring will rename itself using what it calls an "NBC-branded name."

"On the Cover" extends NBC's home-shopping play into magazines. If the concept works, "On the Cover" will be extended into direct-mail subscription offers as well as selling via a toll-free phone number.

"One of most intriguing things to NBC is being able to create a new business model where we can utilize our traditional and new media platforms for growing e-commerce revenue for the company," said an NBC programming executive, who requested anonymity.

"We are in conversations about the concept, and we certainly have an open mind about participating," said Lindsay Valk, senior VP, director of circulation and marketing for the Hearst magazines. He said the show and its plan to sell magazine subscriptions "is certainly a novel concept. And we certainly like the idea of our titles getting greater exposure."

During the show, contestants will see huge 25-foot screens displaying a blow-up of a magazine cover-as well as covers of CDs and books, according to Janine Silvera, On the Cover Inc.'s senior VP-business development and a magazine industry veteran.

Slated as a March 2001 prime-time entry, "On the Cover" is the brainchild of Rick Leed, former president of Wind Dancer Production Group (producer of ABC's now-canceled "Home Improvement"), and veteran show runner Stuart Krasnow ("The Martin Short Show," "Ricki Lake"), who recently signed a long-term producing deal with NBC Studios.

Mr. Leed said the show is in the "final stages" of negotiations with a half-dozen or more major publishers and media conglomerates on the transactional, e-commerce component of the game show, including Bertelsmann AG (owners of the Gruner & Jahr magazines), Conde Nast Publications, Hachette-Filipacchi Media, Hearst, Primedia and Time Warner.

"The key component of our show will always be about entertaining and challenging people's knowledge of pop culture, but it will also offer them a convenient and easy way to buy [a magazine or] a book or CD that has aroused their interest," Mr. Leed said.

A Web site, Onthecover.com, will launch with the on-air version as a "play-along" Web site. An "Internet subscription agent" will be used to fulfill the magazine subscriptions, Ms. Silvera said

"Our Web site and online business are unusual because they are not dependent on advertising sales, because we will solely derive our revenue streams from subscription and merchandise sales," Mr. Leed said. "That is why a lot of other Web sites have failed, depending entirely on banner ad sales."

As to where NBC will schedule "On the Cover" remains up the in air. The NBC programming source said Monday and Sunday nights are being considered. "There has been a bit of an internal battle as to whether `On the Cover' should be an hour or half-hour in format, but I have to think the longer format is easier to launch than the other," the NBC source said.

NBCi, the network's primary Internet portal service, is also said to be a revenue participant in the TV show by providing online promotion and a hyperlink to On theCover.com.

Mr. Freeman is senior editor at Electronic Media.

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