A&E plays mob rule for 'Sopranos'

Users put virtual pieces together for Web game tied to syndie bow

A&E wants to score points with an innovative online game aimed at attracting viewers to "The Sopranos," which begins its syndicated run on the cable channel Jan. 10.

The Sopranos A&E Connection, which will be played at SuitcaseofCash.com in sync with A&E's broadcast of the HBO series, is equal parts interactive promotion, fantasy league and scavenger hunt. Designed to let the cable network put its own stamp on the New Jersey mob clan, the game will coincide with an aggressive campaign to promote a cleaned-up version of "Sopranos," for which A&E will pay $2.5 million per episode.

In the promotion, which began Friday, consumers can collect virtual game pieces, 36 in all, by clicking on them online or snapping photos of "Sopranos" print, outdoor and TV ads with digital and mobile-phone cameras and uploading them to the Web. The pieces include characters, locations and objects connected to the show as well as the titular family's favorite food, beverages, clothes and accessories.

"It's the first clickable real-world ad campaign," A&E vp advertising and consumer marketing Lori Peterzell said. "It extends the meaning of paid communications. I don't know anyone who's done this type of engagement before."

Before the 9 p.m. Wednesday airing of the episodes, players ? who also can compete in teams ? will arrange their pieces on an Internet game board. They are awarded points for every two seconds their "game piece" appears onscreen. They get extra points if, for example, they place Tony, his bathrobe, his pool and beloved ducks next to one another on the board and then, in that episode, the Mafia boss jumps into his pool while wearing his robe to feed the ducks.

Peterzell said that obsessive fans of "Sopranos" or those who watch an episode on DVD before it airs to get an idea of whether A.J. will eat baked ziti while sitting next to Paulie Walnuts will not have an advantage. She said the series has been edited and that there is "no way" of correlating the DVD episodes to the game board.

"If people want to try to get it down to a science, they can go ahead, but there's no way to cheat yourself a win here," Peterzell said.

The player who scores the most points by Feb. 21, the end of Season 1, will win a $100,000 "suitcase of cash." The top 10 overall players and the weekly top scorers also will get prizes, and all participants will be available for a random drawing each week.

Peterzell said that every piece of paid media related to the show on A&E is in play but that ads from HBO or even, say, a random snapshot of "Sopranos" actor Michael Imperioli walking through Tribeca will not be able to be scanned in.

Peterzell said the game tested highly among the 200,000-member "A&E Insider" community. "It performed well across the demographics," Peterzell said. "It resonated with women, which was good for us."

The game will not target any one audience, Peterzell said, but rather the goal is to attract hardcore and casual gamers and "Sopranos" fanatics as well as newcomers to the show. "We're making it easy for any and everyone to get involved," she said. "It can be played on any number of levels."

The game, which has been in development for more than a year, was inspired by the popularity of fantasy sports and the growing legions of casual gamers, Peterzell said. She said she expects the game to be a "benchmark" in interactive promotions and that it was the perfect fit for A&E.

"We're very confident that this will be a huge success," Peterzell said. "We're a multimedia entertainment-based company and the game is representative of how we're looking at things."