Chevrolet and Sprint-Backed Program Features New Levels of Interactivity

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NEW YORK -- Just as interest in both editions of NBC’s "The Apprentice" is waning, AOL is firing up its own version called The Biz, backed by Chevrolet and Sprint.
On the new online reality show, nine competitors battle for a chance to run their own record label.

The online reality competition -- not part of Mark Burnett Productions -- kicks off today on the Time Warner-owned portal. Nine finalists perform a variety of music-business related jobs, competing for the chance to run their own record label at Warner Music Group.

Daily Webisodes

Three- to five-minute Webisodes will be uploaded daily. Every Thursday, finalists will be judged by major music executives, such as Warner Music Group’s U.S. CEO Lyor Cohen and Def Jam founder Russell Simmons, and Sprint customers can vote for their favorite contestants by text messaging from their phones, while others can vote by heading online to the Sprint-sponsored A winner will be crowned in November.

Sprint and Chevy will both be pushing new products with their integrations. Throughout the program, contestants will carry around Sprint’s new MM-830 handset as their “mobile office,” capturing and playing back footage of bands with the phone’s built in video recorder and media player, as well as accessing the Web for directions and telephone numbers.

Meanwhile, Chevy will promote its new HHR retro-styled station wagon. In one episode, contestants are charged with integrating the HHR into a music video. In another sequence, a series of HHRs line the street outside a New York City music venue.

The move follows Chevy’s strategy of using online and music properties to advertise the youthful-skewing HHR. Previously, the auto marketer told Ad Age it has earmarked 20% of its HHR media budget for online promotions. In addition to the AOL play, it will sponsor Yahoo’s Music Mods, in which viewers create and e-mail their own music videos. Chevy has a history with AOL as a long-standing sponsor of its AOL Music Sessions.

New levels of interactivity

For the two marketers integrated into the Web-based show, "The Biz" offers a level of interactivity and immediacy not found on traditional TV.

Whereas an episode of "The Apprentice" can plug a sponsor’s Web site for more information about a particular product (a Home Depot-sponsored session, for example, directed viewers to, an online program puts the Web site just a click away. And in addition to running 15-second pre-roll ads and standard banner and button online ads, the two marketers will brand the frame that surrounds the video player.

“When you watch "The Apprentice", getting viewers to a site is a two-step process where they have to write the down the number or Web site and then go do it,” said Jim L’Heureux, VP-AOL Media Networks Group. “Here you don’t have to go through a two-step process and your yield is going to be much higher.”

While AOL won’t disclose how many impressions it hopes to snare with The Biz, it has received tens of millions of promotional impressions co-branded with either Sprint or Chevy through its main front doors -- AOL Instant Messenger, and the AOL service welcome screen.

The program, part of AOL’s reincarnation as a rich-content creator, comes at a time when Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Comcast are all reportedly interested in partnering with the portal to access its content library and high monthly traffic -- AOL properties logged 60.6 million visitors in September, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

Second AOL reality show: 'Project Freshman'

Soon AOL will be announcing a big sponsor for another one of its original reality shows, Project Freshman, which follows the video blogs of first-year college students. Over the summer it made a name for itself within the music community by airing the entire "Live 8" concert series, content that was accessed by millions during its six-week archival period.

AOL executives expect Internet users to use "The Biz" much as they accessed Live 8’s content—watching episodes on demand, re-watching content, checking out extra footage and signing up for e-mail alerts to remind them when a new episode is posted. Viewers can also read finalists’ blogs, listen to the AOL Radio station they've programmed and see their family photos. AOL has also created a function where viewers can email or instant message "The Biz" content to friends.

“We find that when we make our rich content and programming available on demand, the on-demand use far exceeds the live component,” Mr. L’Heureux said.

And that’s exactly why he thinks AOL’s reality competition will thrive online while its TV counterparts are floundering.

“It’s not appointment programming; it’s available anytime,” he said. “It’s short-form and interactive and we find that when we build in those truly interactive elements and the things that have community appeal, that’s the kind of programming that really works.”
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