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ROME-Silvio Berlusconi's Fininvest networks have modified their in-program sponsorships to resemble home shopping. The reason: to comply with new rules intended to close a loophole that let stations circumvent restrictions on ad time.

The new rules, in effect since March 13, require that these sponsorships be included in the 15% commercial limit. These consist of advertiser-sponsored games, quizzes and promotions that are part of a TV program but mention the sponsor's product frequently.

In the past, both commercial TV and state-run RAI TV circumvented the limits and greatly boosted revenues by selling this non-traditional method of advertising. Fininvest, for example, received some $240 million in revenue from in-program promotions.

But since the new rules allow networks to run up to 72 minutes of home shopping-style programs for every 24 hours of programming, advertisers have bought up this time to replace the in-program sponsorships.

One big difference is the rate. Before, RAI and Fininvest offered low rates for in-program sponsorships because they could sell as much of it as they wanted to, completely separate from their 15% commercial time limit. But now, because it's part of the quota, they charge the same rates as they would for traditional commercials.

Unilever, working with its agency J. Walter Thompson Co., Milan, has already devised a promotion under the home shopping guise for its Mentadent toothpaste brand. It offers a package deal to students of a toothbrush, T-shirt and oral hygiene brochures.

In the program-like segment, a TV host chats with a Unilever chemist about toothpaste, and they explain this great Mentadent package is available for viewers who call in and order it.

The intent is to get more advertising exposure for the brand rather than to actually sell merchandise directly.

Fininvest hasn't given up on overturning the legislation and has filed a recourse suit in Rome, arguing that the new legislation is more restrictive than European Union regulations.

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