Universal Deals for ReplayTV Interactive Ads

Universal Pictures has signed to be the first interactive advertiser on ReplayTV Inc. personal video recorders, with its one-year buy starting in early October.

Although ReplayTV had previously booked Showtime Networks Inc. and other networks, the movie studio is its first nonmedia advertiser, ReplayTV senior vice president of advertising Michael Teicher said.

"We're already loading the Universal content onto the hard drive during the manufacturing process," he said. Rather than including conventional 30- or 60-second commercials, the studio will, at least initially, use its dedicated ReplayTV channel to run longer-than-usual movie trailers, he noted.

"Our brands are our movies, and by gaining an exclusive position with 'ReplayZones' and other premium positions to promote each new release, Universal Pictures will gain valuable research and insights that will increase our overall advertising ROI [return on investment] in the future, as personal television becomes more ubiquitous," Universal president of marketing Marc Shmuger said in a prepared statement.

Shmuger also noted that Universal could give ReplayTV owners "the chance to view behind-the-scenes footage and advance clips not available elsewhere."

"Universal will fully exploit [ReplayTV's] potential," Teicher said, adding that this might include running consumer sweepstakes, trivia contests and the like. The studio may also use its ReplayZone channel to direct consumers to its Web site, to theaters or to movies scheduled on television or cable, he said.

ReplayTV will also be used to promote Universal's latest home-video releases, starting with Jaws in DVD format.

Two Christmas releases-How the Grinch Stole Christmas, starring Jim Carrey, and Family Man, a romantic comedy pairing Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni-will be the first movie titles to be promoted through a variety of entitlements, banners, billboards and buttons. One Grinch "info button" will plug a tie-in contest with Nabisco.

Teicher declined to name other titles, and Universal executives could not be reached for information on, for instance, when a trailer for The Mummy II-featuring the World Wrestling Federation's The Rock as a villain-might be shown to Replay owners.

Syndicated shows Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood have already run segments on that summer 2001 release.

As for how many consumers would see Universal's content on PVRs, Teicher said, ReplayTV's policy is not to discuss retail sales.

But Mike Paxton, senior analyst for converging markets and technologies at Cahners In-Stat Group (a sister company to Multichannel News), estimated that 50,000 ReplayTV units would be in consumers' homes by year's end, double the present number.

Earlier this year, the research firm estimated that as ReplayTV and rival TiVo Inc. begin licensing the technology to major TV-set marketers, 915,000 PVRs could be sold in 2001.

Teicher, a former Turner Broadcasting Sales Inc. executive, said he has pitched numerous ad agencies and their clients about ReplayTV's advertising potential.

Although Grey Advertising, The Interpublic Group of Cos. Inc. and Omnicom Group Inc. are among ad agencies investing in ReplayTV, he declined to identify any of their accounts that may have been pitched thus far.

At The Myers Group LLC's recent "Myers Forum for Interactive Television Development," Teicher demonstrated some ways in which clients could use ReplayZones.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. could showcase home products as "t-commerce opportunities," he said, or trivia contests sponsored by toy maker Hasbro Inc. could pop up on screen during pause times. He stressed last week that those were demonstrations, rather than previews of actual commitments by those companies.

Some speakers at industry conferences since last fall have expressed fears that ReplayTV and TiVo might replace one advertiser's spot with the commercial of a competitor. But Teicher emphasized that ReplayTV has no intention of doing so, since that would be counterproductive.

Time Warner Cable and Comcast Corp. announced in July that they would test ReplayTV by leasing PVRs to their subscribers in Southern California and Burlington County, N.J., respectively (at $11.95 monthly, Comcast said).