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AOL inks deals with 'Shrek,' Ellen,' Endemol

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NEW YORK -- Time Warner Inc.'s AOL on Tuesday unveiled its programming lineup for the rest of the year and 2008, featuring partnerships with DreamWorks, Mark Burnett Prods. and Endemol USA.

In an effort to divert advertising money from the networks and to capitalize on the success of its "Gold Rush" online game, the Web portal unveiled the new slate to marketers at its first upfront-style event at the Time Warner Center here.

"This is an incredible time," AOL chairman and CEO Randy Falco said at the event. "Everything is growing online, and marketers should be doing more to leverage opportunities."

AOL's first new initiative is "Ye Olde Shrek the Third Royal Tournament," which will launch April 26 with Sara Lee Food & Beverage as an initial sponsor, in advance of the release of DreamWorks Animation's "Shrek the Third" on May 18.

In partnership with DreamWorks and Mark Burnett Prods., the program will feature 25 online games unveiled over six weeks that will feature characters and settings from the movie.

The program, introduced Tuesday by DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg in a taped message, will be similar to the one featured in AOL's partnership with DreamWorks' "Flushed Away" in the fall.

AOL will partner with Endemol USA ("Deal or No Deal") for the "iLand" competition in second-quarter 2008, which will see the companies sharing in the advertising. The initiative, hosted by Brooke Burns, who introduced it at Tuesday's event, will let users build profiles and compete in online challenges for the opportunity to be sent to a remote tropical island.

Once there, the winner will have wireless access, and viewers will send supplies, advice and more people to the island to build a community. One community member will be voted the winner by viewers and will receive the island as a grand prize.

"I'm really excited to see how consumers react," said Jon Vlassopulos, vp business development and digital media at Endemol USA. "Our expertise and AOL's broad audience combined with the competition angle will hopefully create somewhat of a phenomenon."

Launching in the fourth quarter, AOL will collaborate with Telepictures Prods. and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" to encourage users to send in stories and videos about their hometown for inclusion on a recurring segment on the syndicated talk show, which begins its fifth season in the fall. A winning town will be chosen out of the entries, and DeGeneres, who appeared in a taped message at the event, will film an episode of her show there.

Burnett and Mario Lopez -- and eight women wearing tight gold dresses -- were on hand Tuesday to help unveil AOL's follow-up to "Gold Rush," titled "Gold Rush Goes Hollywood." Debuting in the third quarter, the game, which audience members had a chance to try out, also is produced in partnership with Mark Burnett Prods. and will feature daily pop culture trivia games for cash prizes. The finale will feature five finalists searching for real gold in Hollywood, with the winner taking home a $1 million prize. "We're really going to ride this through the fall," AOL executive vp programming Bill Wilson said.

As fake dollar bills rained from the rafters, Leeza Gibbons presented "Million Dollar Bill," an online game that she will host, launching in first-quarter 2008. In the game -- co-produced by Madison Road Entertainment, Scott A. Stone and Viewer Rewards Lp. -- users will play trivia games that will reveal serial numbers on $1 bills in circulation that can then be redeemed for cash prizes. Top players will compete in this format during 90-second segments on network TV. The network will be revealed in the spring or summer.

"We're tremendously excited," Wilson said. "We feel that these programs anchor our advertising deals, and we're giving marketers more than enough time to integrate their brands."

Falco made opening remarks Tuesday along with Time Warner president and CEO Jeff Bewkes, AOL Media Networks president Michael Kelly and AOL president and COO Ron Grant. Wilson and Janet Balis, senior vp sales development for AOL Media Networks, introduced the new lineup.

"You're going to see a very different AOL," Grant said. "Our goal is to be the most transparent company."

Carly Mayberry in Los Angeles contributed to this report.