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Pepsi to Put 2 Summer Shows on WB Network

Times Staff Writer

This summer, the WB network’s trademark frog might find itself dancing in the shadow of a Pepsi-Cola bottle.

The Burbank-based network and the beverage giant announced a partnership Wednesday that will create two new shows: A live music countdown with top-selling recording artists called “Pepsi Smash” and a contest with a two-hour finale -- “Pepsi Play for a Billion” -- in which a participant will have a shot at $1 billion.

The deal marks the union of a broadcast network and advertiser in an era when both are worried about the looming threat of personal digital recorders, such as TiVo, which allow viewers to record programs and skip commercials.

TV executives fear that the commercial time they sell to advertisers -- which generates $15 billion a year and underwrites the cost of programming -- could become nearly worthless. Advertisers, meanwhile, are increasingly uneasy about the increasing costs of commercial time on networks that continue to lose viewers to cable.

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“The world has become more cluttered and the opportunity to break through has become more and more difficult,” said Katie Lacey, Pepsi’s vice president for marketing and media for the Purchase, N.Y., firm. “It just seemed like this was the right time to do things differently.”

The deal, with advertising and promotional placements valued at about $100 million, will gives the 8-year-old network an off-air boost: Beginning in May, the WB logo will appear on 1.3 billion bottles and cups as part of Pepsi’s contest.

“We’re getting promotional support that we’ve never had from a partner that speaks to the same youthful audience that we do,” WB President Jed Petrick said.

The WB is owned by AOL Time Warner Inc. and Tribune Co., which also publishes The Times. Tribune owns 22% of the WB, and more than a dozen Tribune-owned TV stations, including KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles, carry the network’s programming.

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Tom Wolzien, a media analyst with investment research firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., said the WB has succeeded in finding a way to get more out of the on-air time it spends promoting its shows.

“In the past, that’s never been considered commercial time,” Wolzien said.

Pepsi, meanwhile, will benefit from WB promotions that will extend beyond the six episodes planned for “Pepsi Smash” and “Play for a Billion,” the two-hour prime-time broadcast that will air in September.

“Every time the WB promotes those shows, they’ll be promoting Pepsi,” Wolzien said.

The WB and Pepsi will jointly own the live music show that will begin in July, and Pepsi will own the two-hour contest show. The network will pay Pepsi a fee to carry the show.

“We’re back to the ‘50s,” Wolzien remarked.

More than a half century ago, advertisers sponsored programs such as “Kraft Television Theater,” television’s first regularly scheduled drama, and Milton Berle’s variety show, “Texaco Star Theater.”

Networks, however, wanted more control over content and revenue and began buying shows themselves and selling commercial time to advertisers. Now, advertisers are aggressively pushing to become bigger players in the creation of entertainment because they realize it can be more persuasive.

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Last year, the WB ran a show called “No Boundaries” created by Ford Motor Co. to showcase its sport-utility vehicles. Coca-Cola and Ford signed on to Fox Broadcasting’s “American Idol,” which became a runaway hit. The show features music videos centered on Mustangs and Ford trucks, judges drinking out of red Coke cups and contestants who are interviewed in the “Coke Red Room” before they go on stage.

More is on the way, said Coca-Cola President and Chief Executive Steve Heyer.

“We need each other -- now more than ever,” Heyer said during a February seminar sponsored by Advertising Age. “We need your ability to help us sell. As you need ours.”


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