Sponsors Return for Second Season of CBS's 'Rock Star'

First-Season Ratings Weren't Big, but Young Fans Were Loyal

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LOS ANGELES -- Honda, Verizon Wireless and Microsoft's MSN are turning into groupies.
'Rock Star' returns tonight on CBS. MSN will rebroadcast all or parts of the series on the portal, which has been recently looking to boost its traffic numbers with brand-backed entertainment offerings.

The marketers have agreed to return as the on-air and online sponsors of the second season of CBS's summer reality show "Rock Star," produced by Mark Burnett Productions. Dave Navarro also returns as the host.

For its second outing, the musical-talent-search show will focus on finding a lead singer for the group Supernova, a new band featuring rockers Tommy Lee, Jason Newsted and Gilby Clarke. The first was a competition to find a front man for the band INXS.

"Rock Star: Supernova" premieres tonight at 8 p.m. with a 90-minute episode. A special showing will air tomorrow after the return of "Big Brother." It will go up against ABC's "The One: Making a Music Star" later this month.

Shot live in a club-like setting

Mr. Burnett said the new incarnation of the show will be shot live in a club-like setting, which differs from the "American Idol"-like stage from the show's initial season.

The marketers declined to disclose how much they will spend as part of their tie-in with the show, but as part of the deal Honda and Verizon will serve as the exclusive advertisers on rockstar.msn.com.

Each brand will offer its own branded-entertainment content, such as fantasy betting pools to pick contestants viewers think will survive the run of the series, or mobile-themed offerings allowing users to create their own "Rock Star" screensavers for their phones.

Additionally, MSN will rebroadcast all or parts of the series on the portal, which has been recently looking to boost its traffic numbers with brand-backed entertainment offerings. As a result, the show will not be shown on CBS's new broadband portal, Innertube. Programming on MSN will include recaps of performances and a weekly compilation of behind-the-scenes footage from the show.

Last season, MSN spent a reported $5 million for the right to build a website for the reality show and partner with Mr. Burnett's production company to sell online ads.

Verizon puts phones in hands of wannabe singers

Verizon Wireless is stepping up its on- and off-air involvement with the show this year, equipping each participant with a V Cast phone that they'll use as an integral part of the contest. The lead singer wannabes will show off the phones' MP3 capabilities, using the handsets and music service to download the songs they'll be singing. They'll also use the video to watch their performances after the fact and critique themselves.

Consumers will be able to text message their votes via Verizon, as they did last season, but they'll also have access to the contestants' performances and songs immediately after the show airs. Among the other added content will be back stage interviews moments before the participants hit the stage, and behind the scenes clips with Mr. Navarro and co-host Brooke Burke.

"We really worked with the producers to bring the product to life in the show," said Rich Levy, director of brand and integrated marketing at Verizon Wireless.

Executives learned from season one that their customers were "very involved with the show from the beginning," Mr. Levy said. "The property fit very well with our buzz-hungry consumer who likes music, video extras and behind-the-scenes material."

LS International's coup last season

It may not have been a major sponsor, but LS International, an audio-equipment manufacturer, scored a coup in exposure last year with the series, having extensive placement during the contest without buying any ad time on CBS. The marketer paid Mr. Burnett for inclusion into the show, however, to the tune of stock options worth $100,000. In addition, Mr. Burnett received an option to buy 2 million shares, which would equal a 3% stake in the company.

As part of its involvement, Honda used the show to target 20- and 30-somethings as the automaker was getting ready to roll out its new Civic. The marketer recently launched a subcompact car called Fit that's being pushed to the same audience.

Although "Rock Star" failed to become a ratings smash -- an episode was handed over to VH1 and the series ended two weeks earlier than planned -- the show did attract a loyal fan base.

The show picked up momentum as the contest unfolded. Its finale last September drew 7.83 million viewers, the highest ratings of its three-month run, which was attracting 5 million viewers on average.

Even though the show wasn't a top ratings performer, the subsequent CD sold briskly -- 75,000 copies in its debut week -- and a worldwide tour packed in crowds, giving sponsors even greater exposure.

No surprise brands are back

It's no surprise that marketers returned for a second season. After several airings, marketers were already saying they'd be back for an encore.

At Honda, Tom Peyton, senior manager of national advertising of the Honda brand, said the only downside to the deal was the lower-than-expected ratings, but added that the company would "sign up in a nanosecond for a second one" because the automaker was very pleased with the reach for the 18-to-34 audience and the show's "tonality."

MSN said the company was officially "thrilled" with its association with the show.
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