Alltel to Sponsor ‘Rescue’ Special

May 1, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Bruce Lefkowitz, executive VP of ad sales for Fox Cable Entertainment, found himself with a hot digital property and only a couple of weeks to sell it.

“Rescue Me 2.5,” an original 15-minute scripted special written by series creators Dennis Leary and Peter Tolan, was set for distribution via broadband on AOL and through video-on-demand with most of the top cable operators, including Comcast. That ensured a huge audience for the program, which is produced by Sony Pictures Television.

The project came together quickly, and with time pressures mounting because cable systems need time to load advertisements onto their servers, Mr. Lefkowitz found a buyer in Alltel Wireless, a regional mobile phone company that has been looking to expand nationally.

For the FX cable channel, the short program is an opportunity to hype one of its hottest shows and generate ad revenue. Alltel benefits from the promotional campaign planned for the program. Producer Sony gets to extend its use of the Web and other technologies to increase the value of its shows.

“It’s an opt-in, self-selecting, clutter-free, exclusive environment,” Mr. Lefkowitz said. “That’s what people are really excited about. And it allows Alltel Wireless to reach their core young male target audience in a nontraditional manner.”

Terms of the Alltel deal were not disclosed, but FX had been seeking an advertising commitment worth about $1 million for a spot on each of this season’s “Rescue Me” episodes on cable, a person familiar with the negotiation said. Mr. Lefkowitz said he was seeking several hundred thousand dollars for clickable ads that would precede the “Rescue Me” program on the Web and VOD.

Making a Splash

The third season of “Rescue Me” premieres May 30. To make a splash that day, the short will be shown in New York’s Times Square on the Reuters electronic billboard. Audio will be available over speakers and through a phone call-in line. TelevisionWeek last month was first to report Sony and FX were planning the program.

AOL got exclusive Web rights to play “Rescue Me 2.5” from May 8 to May 29 and in exchange has guaranteed 7.5 million exposures for the special page where the video will be located, a person familiar with the deal said. At the same time, the show will be available via VOD on Adelphia, Cablevision, Cox and DirecTV.

On May 30 TVGuide.com, Heavy.com and IMDB.com will begin to stream the program. FX is close to a deal with a mobile distribution partner, which likely will be Cingular, sources familiar with the negotiation said.

Alltel will benefit from an aggressive promotion campaign to get people to watch the short. About 20 prime-time ads will air on FX in prime time, and cable operators are promising 2,800 promo spots tagged with the name of the advertiser.

“The advertisers are really hungry for vehicles that can carry them into these new spaces, because they sense-as do I as an advertiser who’s a brand manager-that a certain portion of our audience is migrating away from the places we can traditionally reach them into new places where it’s harder to reach them,” said John Landgraf, president of FX Networks.

The timing of “Rescue Me 2.5” is good too, going into the upfront.

“There are a lot of people talking about what they can do,” Mr. Lefkowitz said. “We can talk about what we have done.”

Mr. Landgraf said Zack Van Amburg, Sony co-president of programming and production, is an enthusiastic partner in the project.

“I called Zack up and said, ‘Here’s what we want to do. Will you be our partners? Will you pay for 20 percent of it?’ I got a call back 24 hours later saying yes and yes.”

The two companies set up a separate budget for the project of about $500,000 to pay for the production and the cast, Mr. Landgraf said.

An ad buyer who saw Mr. Lefkowitz’s pitch for “Rescue Me 2.5” compared it favorably with others he’s seen.

“People are throwing these things out there and trying to put them together,” said John Maltby, co-executive director and president of MindShare. “This one looked at least to be a little bit more thought through.”

FX chose to distribute “Rescue Me 2.5” through channels not owned by parent company News Corp. to reach the biggest possible audience, Mr. Landgraf said.

“We may eventually stream it on FX.com, but because we felt like when you’re talking about the massive platforms that were interested in it and they wanted to roll it out exclusively, we thought it served the program better to let [the other platforms] do it.”

Mr. Landgraf said the parent company is working on a plan for distributing digital entertainment offerings.

“News Corp. is trying to aggregate a lot of its assets into a much more global strategy because there’s some thinking that individual broadband channels for each one of these cable networks are not going to be self-sustaining and profitable,” Mr. Landgraf said. “Yes, eventually there will be a whole range of content that FX will provide in a broadband context, but it probably will be nested within a larger News Corp. universe.”