Yahoo moves up a weight class with 'Contender'

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Lloyd Braun told the industry he wanted to give the Internet its own "I Love Lucy" moment by integrating Internet service provider Yahoo with TV content. Several alliances struck with Mark Burnett Productions could move Yahoo's new head of media closer to his goal of making the Internet an entertainment platform in its own right.

Yahoo and Mark Burnett Productions will produce a boxing bout to be shown live only online with contestants from "The Contender" TV show, an executive familiar with the deal said. The program, which will contain completely separate and original content from the TV reality show, will be shown on May 24 exclusively on Advertisers will include Intel and Toyota, which currently sponsor the site, but others are expected to be signed, this executive said. Yahoo would not confirm or deny the deal.

The "Contender" deal comes just as the two companies last week unveiled a multi-year extension of their deal for NBC's hit show "The Apprentice."


With broadband penetration expected to reach 60% of online households by year-end 2005, and close to 95% in the workplace, consumers can now tune in to experience sight, sound and motion just like on TV. But with the debut of Yahoo's video search service last week, consumers can choose what video they want to see and when they want to see it. As more TV content migrates to the Web, users will be able to call up programs on demand, without planning ahead to program a DVR. Mr. Braun has said he wants to use his TV background as the former head of ABC Entertainment Television Group to bring the Internet a "signature, compelling event" that will define it as an entertainment medium (AA, Feb. 14).

A promotion at the end of "The Contender" reality show will drive viewers to to vote for six boxers who did not qualify for competing for the $1 million purse on the TV show. Those six will fight in three actual matchups at Caesar's Palace on Tuesday, May 24 at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. EDT, taking advantage of the broadband-connected at-work viewer. The online broadcast will be filmed for Yahoo by Mark Burnett's production staff. It will feature appearances by Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard and will have TV-like production quality. The fights will be available online after they air live.

further fragmentation

Presenting the Internet as a separate content platform "is fueling and facilitating further fragmentation," said Jeff Marshall, senior VP-managing director, Starcom IP. "But it helps consumers because they get what they want when they want it. Broadband gives consumers infinite access to content they want to see."

So far, live Internet feeds, like the NCAA basketball tournament games streamed online in the past three years, haven't the audience numbers buyers expected, Mr. Marshall said. But if the content is especially compelling and available for on-demand viewing later, it could work well, he said.Yahoo's agreement with Mark Burnett Productions up to now has included the production company filming up to 40 minutes of original content for Yahoo with each episode of "The Apprentice" and "The Contender." Extending the deal is clearly related to the success of the branded-entertainment deals that have occurred on "The Apprentice" through the partnership. (Yahoo won't specify how long the "multi-year" pact is, except to say it will include the next two seasons of the show with Donald Trump and the first season of the show with Martha Stewart.) Brands such as Hanes, Staples and Pontiac have sold merchandise direct online following a product's appearance on an episode. For the Pontiac episode, 1,000 viewers reserved Pontiac Solstice cars on by the time the program finished. Another 4,000 reserved cars by the end of the evening. Hanes and Staples experienced similar sellouts of their T-shirts and desk organizers created by the "Apprentice" contestants as part of a task on the show.

"The consumer can become [like] an extra in the program and own the product being featured by the end of the program," said Jim Moloshok, senior VP-entertainment and content acquisition at Yahoo in Mr. Braun's unit. "The Internet provides the shortest route between TV and the consumer."

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