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Nets Head Off to Campus

While TV isn't the first thing that comes to mind about the college experience, today's students are getting a chance to build their resumes, courtesy of cable. Soap-opera proponent SoapNet and on-campus service MTVU are presently engaged in collegians' careers.

In an experiment that could be tagged Project Greenlight-meets-YouTube, SoapNet is launching a platform for showcasing student-created soap operas. Branded SoapU and debuting this fall, the platform challenges students to create their own 10-minute soaps and compete for a $20,000 budget to produce original content for SoapNet's broadband channel, SoapNetic.

PRODUCTION BOOM

Many schools may already have a jump on the competition. SoapNet estimates that about 350 schools across the country are currently producing film or television content, and some colleges already have soaps up and running, such as Ivory Towers at Harvard University, University Place at Northwestern University, General College at the University of North Carolina, Boston College's The B.C. and Bay State at Boston University.

“College students are ardent soap fans and have a history of creating soaps centered around college life,” said Deborah Blackwell, general manager of SoapNet. “SoapU is a great opportunity to showcase the talent that is alive and flourishing on college campuses around the country while building deeper relationships with our student-viewers.”

Submissions for SoapU must be received by Dec. 31. A total of 10 semifinalists will be selected, with their work then appearing on the SoapU microsite on SoapNet.com. From Jan. 15 to 26, users will then vote for their top five projects. Finalists are then given eight weeks to create a five-minute episode or vignette with a 20-second promote based on a soap opera scenario provided by the network. During the eight-week process, each finalist will be visited by a SoapNet crew to document behind-the-scenes action.

The grand prize winner, announced in April, then receives $20,000 to produce original content for SoapNet's broadband programming, as well as a trip to Los Angeles to pitch original programming and broadband content concepts to SoapNet and SoapNetic.

MICROSOFT TOOL

For its part, the 750-school college service MTVU has just rolled out its third season of Quad Squads, a reality series that pits rivals against one another in the business arena. This season features students from Indiana University and the University of Illiniois competing to develop the best marketing plan for MSN mapping tool Windows Live Local Search. The winning team may see its plan used by MSN and receive a $15,000 prize package, including a trip to Redmond, Wash., for a chance to work at the company.

“College students are one of the first adopters of new technologies, and they're a key group we want to reach with our message of bringing your online world together with Windows Live,” said Microsoft senior product manager Justin Osmer. “MTVU's unique connection to the college audience provides a great way for us to reach this tech-savvy demographic and educate them about our Local Search product, as well as to tap their creative marketing ideas.”

The network reports that Quad Squads has already paid off for some sponsors, including Snickers, which reported an 80% rise in on-campus brand awareness after sponsoring last season's competition between Auburn and Alabama for the best “Snickers Satisfies” campaign. The first-season competition pitted the University of Georgia against Georgia Tech for the best market-introduction plan for Amp'd Mobile.

LAHIRI STANDS IN

Elsewhere, MTVU, in a first-time collaboration with MTV Desi, MTV Networks' channel aimed at bicultural South Asian-Americans, will showcase a visit by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri to a creative writing class at Pace University in New York City on Oct. 24.

Lahiri earned the Pulitzer in 1999 for Interpreter of Maladies, her collection of short stories about the lives of Indian migrants torn between their roots and their newfound culture. She unexpectedly showed up — with cameras for both networks in tow — at the classroom last week where Pace students were studying her work.

The discussion will premiere on MTVU's Stand In, whose roster of guest professors has included Tom Wolfe, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Madonna, Snoop Dogg and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, on MTVU.com at 7 a.m. on Nov. 6 and on the channel later that day. MTV Desi will debut an extended version at 8 p.m. (ET) that night.