What Everyone Is Talking About Today

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NEW YORK ( -- The future of advertising, apparently, depends on keeping viewers on the edge of their seats, again and again and again.

CBS next week plans to unveil a “microseries” sponsored by a Pontiac’s Torrent that will air at 9 p.m. each night for a week, according to the Wall Street Journal today. But each “episode” only lasts about a minute. “The Courier” is the very short story of a man racing against time as he tries to find his kidnapped wife. Viewers can see extra scenes at the network’s Web site, where they can also download the episodes to their mobile phones.

Both CBS and Pontiac -- whose Torrent SUV will be featured in three of the episodes and which will air an ad after each episode -- are using “The Courier” as a lure to get viewers to pay attention to their wares. The two are banking on the plot to keep viewers coming back each night to see the next installment. CBS, by showing it each night during its prime-time lineup, hopes it will bring viewers in who will stay and watch its shows. And both expect the story to be so compelling that viewers will visit the Web site and download bits of it to their cellphones. Whew, that’s a lot to expect of a story that is only about seven minutes long.

Over at Yahoo, Lloyd Braun is exploring how to recycle a project he promoted while he was at ABC, a show called “The Runner,” which asks viewers to track down a mystery fugitive across the U.S., as he stops at advertisers’ stores, eats at local restaurants or drives an advertiser's car as his getaway vehicle. The new twist to the original idea is that now each episode will be a three- to five-minute episode, and viewers will be directed to online puzzles to solve to get the next clue. It, too, will need to be compelling enough to get viewers to keep coming back.

The idea of the cliffhanger is as old as serialized stories in Dickensian London’s press. Suspenseful stories became known as “potboilers” because an ongoing story printed in a periodical kept a writer’s pot full and boiling all year long. But never has getting the crowd hooked been so crucial to so many fortunes. Media convergence may prove to be the ultimate boon to those who can spin the best yarn.

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