Cheez-It Hits the Spot

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Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. is embracing cheesy product placements.

The company cut a deal making Kellogg Co.’s Cheez-It product line the sole charter advertiser this year for Gemstar’s TV Guide Spot on-demand channel, which is scheduled to debut this week on Time Warner Cable systems and this summer on Comcast Corp. systems.

TV Guide Spot will incorporate the line and some of its sub-brands, like Cheez-It Twisterz, into its television-guidance programming by sponsoring hosted segments, branded trivia interstitials and a Cheez-It TV rating system.

Additionally, billboard ads will run between segments and there will be a copious number of product placements.

Gemstar recently added the on-demand content to TVGuide.com, and it will also be available to viewers with standalone TiVo Inc. digital video recorders.

TV Guide Spot general manager Stacy Jolna said he wasn’t concerned about viewers being turned off by the volume of ads from a single advertiser.

“I think the entertainment guide and the value of the programming content stands up for itself, and I think it will be quite clear to consumers, as they watch these programs, they’ll get a bit of a giggle,” Jolna said.

The channel will feature segments such as “Catch Up,” which will give viewers updates on 20 to 30 popular network series; “Watch This” recommendations; and “Big Movie Guide” highlights from cable on-demand movies.

“Catch Up” segments already running on TV Guide.com include season updates on USA Network’s Monk, CBS’s Survivor: Palau, Showtime’s The L Word and Penn & Teller: Bullshit; and A&E’s Growing Up Gotti and Airline.

TV Guide Spot will also run “mVids” music videos from record companies, in addition to highlights about upcoming special concert performances on programs such as ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s Tonight Show With Jay Leno.

Jolna said TV Guide Spot will feature four on-air hosts — two men, and two women, whom he described as new talent. The focus of the channel will be “guidance with attitude,” he said.

TV Guide is developing several new on-demand segments for the channel, including an astrology program “that marries life guidance with what to watch on TV this week,” Jolna said.

VOD users will be prompted to select their astrological sign, and receive program recommendations from an astrologer based on their sign, he explained.

“It’s designed, obviously, to be tongue-in-cheek,” Jolna said.

King of the Hill producer John Collier and 24 producer Howard Gordon are also producing an animated segment for the channel, which “personalizes guidance according to your TV passion,” Jolna said.

An animated character will help viewers pick shows based on their viewing preferences, depending on whether they’re a sports nut of a fashion aficionado, he added.

Gemstar secured distribution for TV Guide Spot on Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable systems as part of broader carriage deals the company cut with the MSOs last year.

Gemstar said TV Guide Spot will become available to about 14 million Comcast and Time Warner Cable customers during the next three months.

Jolna said other MSOs have “expressed a great deal of enthusiasm” about adding TV Guide Spot to their free on-demand platforms, but Gemstar hasn’t cut other carriage deals for the channel.

Jolna declined to comment on whether Gemstar is looking to charge other operators a license fee for TV Guide Spot, but noted, “It’s always good to have multiple revenue streams.”

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