'Idol' sponsors now paying $35 mil

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NEW YORK -- Coca-Cola, Ford and AT&T are back again as the three main sponsors of Fox's megahit "American Idol," forking over roughly $35 million each for the opportunity to be featured in America's most watched TV show, as well as air commercials during "Idol," post online content and run off-air co-branded marketing programs.

The $35 million price tag is up slightly from the estimated $30 million the sponsors spent last season, but the advertisers are likely to get an even better return on their costly investment than they had hoped for. With the writers strike having shut down production on most original scripted programming, "Idol" -- which premieres Tuesday night -- is expected to be an even bigger ratings juggernaut than ever.

As far as this season's integrations, Ford, Coca-Cola and AT&T will for the most part be repeating their in-show performances from years past, with a few new revisions in either content or products featured.

Ford, which will again be featuring its vehicles in music videos with the final 12 contestants that air during the show, will be seeking to incorporate its Ford Escape Hybrid into the program this season. While the final details of Ford's integration have not yet been decided, Ford will give away Hybrids to the two top finalists instead of the Ford Mustangs it has awarded in years past. It will also feature the Hybrid in some of its music videos, and is also considering other integration options along with Fox and the show's producers FremantleMedia and 19 Entertainment.

"As all of Hollywood and the world is going green and looking at more environmental initiatives, I wouldn't be surprised to see more involvement creatively from the Ford Escape Hybrid in 'American Idol,'" said Bob Witter, Ford global brand entertainment manager. "Ford Motor Co. brings a lot of value in terms of the Hybrid and the environmental message to 'American Idol.'

Ford is also planning to heavily promote its new crossover vehicle the Ford Edge in this season's "Idol" as well as its new Sync voice-activated communications and entertainment system for mobile phones and digital music players, which was developed with Microsoft. "We'll be promoting Sync technology in some fun, creative ways in 'American Idol,'" said Witter. "Sync is so music-intensive, it's such a natural for 'American Idol,'" he said.

Coca-Cola will be back with its branded cups on the judges' table, the Coca-Cola red room where the "Idol" contestants are interviewed by host Ryan Seacrest and hang out backstage, and Coke graphics on the LCD flat screen that sits behind contestants on stage as they are being interviewed by Seacrest.

Coca-Cola spokeswoman Susan Stribling said the red room will be refreshed with some new design elements and the flat screen images on stage will be updated as well with "Coke Side of Life" graphics.

In addition, behind-the-scenes video from the show which was last year sponsored by Coke on AmericanIdol.com will only be available this season on mycokerewards.com. "It's certainly a way of driving more people to mycokerewards.com," Stribling said. "We hope they'll think it's a really great program and stick around to become long-term mycokerewards members."

Coke will again offer viewers the chance to design their own Coca-Cola cups, with the winning design featured on one episode of the show. In addition, Coke is inviting fans to post their designs on their personal profile pages on MySpace, Facebook or other social networking sites and to submit the URLs to Coke, with one person who does so randomly selected to win airfare, hotel accommodations and tickets to go see an episode of "Idol."

AT&T, which is believed to reap the greatest benefits of all the partners from its sponsorship of the text message voting every week, as well as "Idol" downlodads, ringtones and even video of bad auditions and performances last year, is expected to be back with very similar on-air and off-air elements to its campaign. "We're delighted to be back," said AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel. "It's a great partnership and sponsorship for us." He said AT&T was not ready to announce the details of its 2008 "Idol" integration and sponsorship, which don't really get off the ground until later in the season when the voting begins.

While the writers strike may deliver stronger ratings than ever for "Idol," Ford, Coke and AT&T –- all major network advertisers -- are losing out overall, with the strike causing ratings shortfalls in other shows in which they may be running spots or be integrated.

Fremantle also announced that Nestle is back for the second year as an off-air promotional partner. Other off-air partnerships are expected to be announced in the coming weeks. Last year, Fremantle lined up six promotional partners including McDonald's, Samsung, Pringles and Dreyer's, all of whom are believed to have paid over $1 million for the rights to feature "Idol" branding on their packaging, products and marketing programs.

This year, Nestle announced an on-pack "Idol Elimination" game promotion offering fans the chance to win $1 million if they correctly choose who will be eliminated each week from the top 24 contestants. Specially marked packages of Nestle candy bars will feature a code that allows fans to play the game online at www.americanidol.com.

There will also be a weekly elimination game in which fans can play for an opportunity to win one of 13 additional cash prizes ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.
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