The Biz: Loews, VW sign up for 'Times' festival

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In keeping with a recent trendlet of highbrow print outlets staking out bigger spaces in the cultural discourse, The New York Times is gearing up for the third iteration of its Arts & Leisure Weekend, to be held Jan. 9 through 11.

Though the event entails discounted admission to cultural institutions and entertainment venues located in 10 countries -"from the Pompidou in Paris to the Guggenheim in Bilboa," says Alyse Myers, the Times' VP-marketing-and 32 states, its sweet spot remains in the paper's hometown, which will again feature a series of TimesTalks events.

Ten "presenting sponsors"-including Banana Republic, Loews Cineplex Entertainment and Volkswagen-have already signed on. Banana Republic will outfit 150 staffers for the event's TimesTalks panels, as it did in the previous festival, and Volkswagen Phaetons will shuttle featured speakers to and from events.

Other sponsors include Barnes & Noble, Grand Marnier, HBO Films, MasterCard, Microsoft and hotelier Starwood, which will house both featured speakers and tout package deals for festival attendees.

The festival is perhaps best understood as a means to offer advertisers more ways to reach out to Times readers, and demonstrate its cultural and intellectual heft as a key thought-leader publication via consumer-aimed events. Coming off a year in which the Times was rocked by the fabrications of former reporter Jayson Blair and the subsequent departure of its top two editors, heavyweights Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, any halo effect can't hurt.

The Times is not the only publication to create such an event. Conde Nast Publications' The New Yorker preceded it with the New Yorker Festival in the fall of 2000, a fact its publisher, David Carey, is quick to point out.

"We are flattered that they were so inspired by The New Yorker Festival that they wanted to create exactly the same thing for their own publication," Carey observes.

"Arts & Leisure Weekend actually takes place on a much larger stage," Myers replies. "It's an opportunity for engage an affluent, well-educated national and international audience over the course of a single weekend.

"I don't view us as competition" to The New Yorker's festival, says John Darnton, the Times' associate editor for special projects. "They take a slightly more literary slant on it."

Featured speakers for '04 include musician Dave Matthews, conceptual artist Christo, TV journalist Diane Sawyer, New York City Ballet master in chief Peter Martins and tenor/restaurateur Placido Domingo. Last year's speakers included U2's Bono, author Tom Wolfe and documentarian Rick Burns, as well as Times luminaries such as film critic Elvis Mitchell. The international aspects of the festival led last year's event to account for over 14,000 theater and performance tickets, according to the Times.

`movie marathon'

One of the programs' most prominent sponsors this year is Loews, which is using the festival as a springboard to its yearlong celebration of its 100th anniversary. "We are involved in any city where we have a theater" by offering moviegoers discount passes for a future movie, says John McCauley, Loews' senior VP-marketing. Loews attendees in over 25 U.S. markets will receive discount passes.

In New York, as last year, Loews will host what McCauley terms a "movie marathon" at its 34th Street Cineplex, where moviegoers may see advance screenings of upcoming movies for $2. "We think last year when we were involved we caught a lot of people's attention, and we thought we wanted to do more" in `04's festival, McCauley says. Loews, he adds, did not pay to sponsor the festival other than making its cinemas available for the Times events.

Nine of the ten sponsors paid cash or ran incremental advertising; Loews is the exception, according to a Times spokeswoman.

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