Billion-dollar monkey mania

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Pepsi-Cola Co.'s big-stakes "Pepsi Play for a Billion" game show hits the WB on Sept. 14, offering a chance to win the largest lottery pot in history. "No one has to live in a house together," said a Pepsi-Cola North America spokesman. "No one has to eat bugs and no one's getting married, but someone will win a million dollars."

They will, however, have to match wits with a monkey.

Hopefuls from May 1 to Aug. 15 are screwing caps off bottles of Pepsi Cola, Mountain Dew and Sierra Mist, checking the code under the cap, entering the code online and awaiting notice. Shortly before the show's 8 p.m. start, the 1,000 selected contestants will pick a random six-digit number, of which there are 1 million possibilities.

Meanwhile, a monkey will be given six one-digit numbers to arrange into a single six-digit figure. The primate's number (the $1 billion number) will be kept secret, though the 990 players whose numbers are not the 10 closest to the monkey's will be eliminated. Show host Drew Carey will tell the 10 left standing that one of them is furthest from the monkey's number. They can either walk away with an undetermined sum of money or take their chances that they could advance to the $1 billion round.

The primate, likely to be a chimpanzee (an ape, not a monkey), will be selected by Pepsi and a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, which is insuring the $1 billion prize. "We are currently in the monkey-interviewing process with our insurance company," the Pepsi spokesman said. "We need to make sure [the game] cannot be rigged."


The process will be repeated eight times for eight contestants, each of whom will give their number to a remaining player. When the panel is down to two, the players will be told they can take a consolation prize, likely to be in the $100,000 range, or stick around and play for $1 million. If neither leaves, the player with the number closest to the monkey's wins $1 million, and the other likely nothing. The $1 million winner would keep that sum and win another $1 billion if his or her number exactly matches the monkey's.

The format isn't finalized, but other contestants-not among the 1,000-will be able to compete to win other non-cash prizes, such as an around-the-world trip on promotional partner UAL Corp.'s United Airlines, prizes from new partner Marriott International and other items.

Major event for WB

AOL Time Warner's WB is positioning "Play for a Billion" as its Super Bowl, with the hope it could be the network's highest rated show and springboard for several new fall programs, said Lou Goldstein, co-president of marketing. The WB, is predicting a 10 rating for the show, and charging its highest rate-$300,000 to $400,000 or more for a 30-second spot-according to some media buyers.

The network already has sold several 30-second spots to marketers besides Pepsi, which is devoting millions to marketing "Billion" and "Pepsi Smash"- its summer music series that began last week.

Three spots support "Billion," one from Pepsi agency BBDO Worldwide in New York, part of Omnicom Group, and two from WB's in-house marketing group with Mr. Carey and co-host Jamie Kennedy.

A billion sounds like a lot. But the payout for "Pepsi Play for a Billion" game show is doled out over 40 years-unless the winner takes the $250 million lump sum-state and federal taxes could eat up about half that, leaving a paltry $500 million.

There is only a 1/1000 chance the $1 billion will be paid. The premium likely was in the $5 million range, said one insurance expert, though Pepsi declined to comment. Since the insurer is a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, Mr. Buffett, rival Coca-Cola Co.'s largest shareholder, is making a bet he won't lose this Pepsi challenge.

contributing: bradley johnson

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