Madison's 'Big Shot' takes aim at wide target

Online reality series eyes local as well as national platforms for ad plan

NEW YORK -- For its new online talent competition and Web series "Big Shot," Madison Road Entertainment has arranged for the production of more than 35 commercials starring winners of the contest, with the possibility of even more featuring local contestants that will appear on 200 local stations nationwide.

"Big Shot" will feature contestants vying for a crown in seven categories -- dancing, singing, modeling, acting, comedy, TV host and sports -- with the winner determined by online voting. The show premieres Jan. 7.

With "Big Shot" contestants utilizing their social networks and any other means they can think of to rally friends and family to vote for them for the chance to make it to Hollywood, Madison Road managing partner Jak SeversonCQ believes the commercials will have a built-in audience of fans wanting to see how their favorite contestant performs. In the end, the spots will help promote both the advertisers' brands and the show, which is being co-produced with Madonna's Maverick Television and James Bruce Prods., he said.

"Individual contestants will be stars in a new breed of specialized commercials targeted at an isolated fan base," Severson said.

Severson expects that the show, through its deal with CBS Television Distribution, will receive even heavier promotion via commercials from local advertisers featuring their hometown "Big Shot" contestants on stations that carry "Entertainment Tonight," a promotional partner for the show. Through Madison Road's pact with CBS Television Distribution -- which took a 50% ownership stake in "Big Shot" -- the 200 "ET"-affiliated stations will promote "Big Shot" on their air for a minimum of 60 seconds per day and in addition to their Web sites.

"The local stations have been given the right to sell a marketing plan to their local advertisers to promote the local talent that is participating in 'Big Shot,' " Severson said. "That means a car dealer in St. Louis can get mileage and value out of the local contestants by putting them in a local car-dealer commercial. Imagine what would have happened if 'American Idol' had allowed local stations to tie themselves to local contestants. We're empowering local stations to be able to truly make a lot of money by bringing in local advertisers to a national concept."

"It's a whole new platform to drive a lot of local promotion and to create a way for everybody to get in on the game," Severson said. "If this works on a local level, across the country, it works on a national level in a really big way."

John Nogawski, president and COO of CBS Television Distribution, said that commercials featuring local contestants from "Big Shot" are just one of the methods under consideration for local stations to utilize the show as a promotional vehicle for advertisers. Others include allowing advertisers to sponsor 10- to 30-second on-air promo spots for "Big Shot" or an "ET"-"Big Shot" trivia campaign based on a regularly scheduled promotional segment on "ET Weekend" featuring stories about how celebrities got their first big shot in Hollywood.

"It comes down to how aggressive these stations want to get and how big they want to make this," Nogawski said. "There are different ways they can monetize 'Big Shot' and how successful they can make this contest in their local town. They're struggling with how to blend their television stations with the new-media side. This show is a bridge between those two worlds."

He said "Big Shot" offered local stations -- usually limited to local weather, news and sports on their Web sites -- an opportunity to provide content linked to national programming.

It remains to be seen whether "Big Shot" will draw the huge numbers Severson predicts, but MPG Entertainment director Hank Kim said that on paper, Madison Road has "done a really good job in terms of setting themselves up for success" by partnering with such established entertainment brands as CBS Television Distribution, "ET" and US Weekly magazine to promote the contest.

"They're taking a proven formula that has to do with everyone's interest in celebrity and becoming a big star -- all those elements that make 'American Idol' so popular -- and are now transferring it to the online world and leveraging the social network platform, while surrounding it with a really robust promotional platform. In theory and on paper, it's really smart. I think if the execution is done well, it's got a really good shot," Kim said.

In addition to the promotions on "ET" and ETOnline.com and on about 200 "ET"-affiliated stations, US Weekly will run a weekly editorial column covering the latest "Big Shot" news and updates.

The CBS Audience Network will distribute each new episode of "Big Shot" to the CBS-branded channel on AOL, MSN, Joost, Brightcove, Bebo, Veoh and Revver. And a series of comedic viral videos will be distributed on sites including YouTube, MySpace, MetaCafe, Break.com, Bebo and Revver to generate buzz and build awareness of the "Big Shot" brand, Severson said.

He declined to name the sponsors that already have signed on for "Big Shot," but he said there would be one sponsor for each of the seven categories of the competition. The sponsor of each category will be featured extensively on that competition page, with the title sponsor of the contest prominently displayed on the site's home page as well.

The show's sponsors will get first dibs at producing commercials as starring vehicles for the winners of the competition to air on TV or online. But any advertiser will be able to feature "Big Shot" winners in their spots, he said.

The three- to five-minute webisodes that will run every night featuring the winner of the previous week's competition -- in each of the seven categories -- will start off with the opening of a sponsor-branded curtain, Severson said. Sponsor advertising also will be displayed on both sides of the video player, he added.

But other than the show's auto sponsor, whose vehicles will transport contestants to meetings with their agents and to their auditions, there will be little integration opportunities for sponsors in the actual webisodes produced by Madison Road and Maverick, Severson said.

In addition to the roughly 35 commercials, 91 "Big Shot" winners will have the opportunity to be cast in about 150 other minor Hollywood roles.
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