'Jimmy Kimmel' going live with ads

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NEW YORK -- ABC is set to announce shortly that its late-night "Jimmy Kimmel Live" broadcast will integrate live commercials into each episode of the program, subject to interest on the part of advertisers. The first live commercials are expected to begin in May.

The technique is a throwback to the early days of TV, when programs were produced live and advertisers often sponsored shows in their entirety. The practice went out of vogue in the 1970s, when most programs were taped and had multiple advertisers.

But now, live spots are seen as a way to stand out, just as the official yardstick for measuring ads on network TV has shifted to commercial ratings. Advertisers also think live ads may be one way to beat the DVR by integrating the product into the content of the show. Last May Garmin, maker of car navigational systems, aired the first live commercial on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" in 14 years.

"Probably most people had no idea they were being pitched a commercial," said Steve Lovell, media sponsorship marketing manager at Garmin and the architect of the spot. "It looked like a skit." He said that posttelecast research showed that effectiveness and awareness levels for the live spot were significantly higher than for many of the company's traditional 30-second spots. Garmin is planning another live spot on "Tonight Show" in the second quarter of this year.

Leno's predecessor, Johnny Carson, was one of the last late-night talk show hosts to do live ads on a regular basis before they went out of style. Alpo was one of the show's regular buyers of such ads, which still have a presence on radio. Years ago, Snapple iced tea credited Howard Stern's live riffs on its product on morning drive radio helping launch the brand. Today, morning radio host Don Imus continues to do live ads.

Doug Hochstadt, vp late-night sales at ABC, confirmed that the Kimmel show would begin to accept the live ads soon. Hochstadt and his team are reaching out to advertisers, and the network hopes to start running live commercials in mid-May.

"We're thrilled to be offering it," Hochstadt said. "It just gives us one more way that our customers can touch the product."

Ad buyers are intrigued by the Kimmel plan. "I think it's a great idea," said David Barrington, executive vp managing director of video investments, at Havas' MPG. "The brand has to fit first and foremost, and I'm sure it's not for everyone. But at the end of the day to have someone who is a great talent like that make the ad a part of the content will help get our messaging across and also help break through the clutter."

Christine Champagne contributed to this report.
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