It's all in the game

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What does a TV program do after it becomes the longest-running game show in history? It sticks its logo on a T-shirt, of course.

However, there's far, far more than T-shirts out there for CBS' "The Price Is Right," a show with a brand recognition most TV programs would give their eyeteeth for. Because of it, FremantleMedia North America -- owners of the show -- have been able to create a far-reaching licensing and syndication empire that draws in everyone from teenagers to senior citizens.

"Any way that you can get your name or your image or some presence held in front of a broad audience, it's good for your core property," says Charles Riotto, president of the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Assn. (LIMA), which sponsors the Licensing Show. "Certainly, having another revenue stream is never a bad thing. But where the real value could be is just in attracting more sets of eyeballs and creating more awareness."

One way to attract more eyeballs is to take the show on the road. There are live versions of "Price" that won't show up on the small screen -- a permanent Las Vegas version with host Todd Newton (one of the front-runners to replace Bob Barker as show host) and a traveling production that allows audience members to price items on keypads to earn the privilege to "come on down." Another live version is set to open in Tunica, Miss., on May 19.

The keypads, says Fremantle vp entertainment and games Andy Felsher, were his idea. "So, if you're coming to the show and paying to get in, you feel like you have an interactive experience from start to finish."

Meanwhile, Vegas is a natural fit for "Price" -- both have a lot of flashing lights, and both involve a certain kind of gambling -- and slot machines are another way to extend that brand. "We have a tremendous business with IGT, which is the No. 1 manufacturer of slot machines," Fremantle senior vp consumer products David Luner says. "They are consistently one of the top three slot machines in the U.S. When you have a consumer that runs from younger men 21-plus to 65-plus women, it's a great Vegas dynamic. And it's a lot of depth for a licensee. You're getting 'The Price Is Right' logo, all the phrasing, all the mechanics and 70-plus games."

The game show also frequently appears as a motif for lotto tickets, which allow winners to collect money and prizes, including "Price" merchandise and trips to the taping of the TV show.

For those less inclined to gamble with real money, Endless Games introduced a "Price" board game in 1997 and a DVD game in 2005. Needless to say, the DVD outsold the board game by some margin.

"We were better able to encapsulate the sights and sounds of the feel of the whole thing (with the DVD)," Endless Games vp sales Kevin McNulty says. "Part of it was shot from the perspective that you're actually onstage playing the game, so it's a whole different gaming experience. We were pleasantly surprised that we were able to sell a quarter of a million of the DVDs, but if we had sold half of that, it would have been considered a success."

Even the board game, which generated far less revenue, is by no means a failure. "Just a facing of a game on a retail shelf is like a little billboard," says Marty Brochstein, executive editor of the Licensing Letter.

And to move its gaming strategy into the 21st century, Fremantle also has made a deal to develop online and console games.

But back to the T-shirt -- that most traditional canvas for a brand. There's a mass-market version for Target and Wal-Mart, and soon, Fremantle will launch an upscale line with the company Knot 4 Nothing for Saks Fifth Avenue. The company even has a deal for sleepwear in the works -- but, notes Luner, don't expect it to go much further: "Just slapping a logo on a lunch pail is not appealing to us," he says.

The one element notably absent from any of the products is the show's host of 35 years. "They carefully don't use my name on some of these things, or my likeness, because if they do, I'm going to charge them millions of dollars," Barker laughs. "I've never thought I'm a brand. If I'm a brand, Babe Ruth had the Baby Ruth candy bar. What would be good for me? How about tequila?"   
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