'Hollywood Upfront' Seeks Cable Ties

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As the TV networks and Madison Avenue brace for their annual upfront mating dance, other sectors of the entertainment industry are prepping for another sales ritual.

Officially named The L.A. Office RoadShow — but often referred to as "Hollywood's upfront" — the event is an annual showcase in which movie studios and major advertisers can explore various promotional tie-in opportunities available six months to two years hence.

The L.A. Office, an entertainment marketing and promotions firm, started the event in 1998. This year's rendition is set for Sept. 10 through Sept. 12 and will see two major changes: Instead of visiting three cities, it will only take place in Los Angeles; and broadcast and cable TV networks will join in as presenters, said L.A. Office president Mitch Litvak.

Litvak — who founded his firm in 1994 after stints at The Walt Disney Co. (where he marketed Beauty and the Beast

and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?)
and Universal Pictures — described the event as "a trade show/marketing conference hybrid."

Tie-in discussions that start at the RoadShow can sometimes take a year or more to finalize, he said. For instance, promo links for this summer's DreamWorks SKG film Shrek
were first pitched two years ago. (The animated feature, which hits theaters in May, has ties with Burger King Corp., Baskin-Robbins and Chevron, according to published reports.)

This year's RoadShow will be the first in which TV networks will present to prospective clients, Litvak said. Though invitations have just gone out, E! Entertainment Television, Lifetime Television and Nickelodeon have already signed on, Litvak added.

In years past, E! and such networks as Discovery Channel, MTV: Music Television, Turner Network Television and USA Networks have attended the RoadShow as observers. As such, they could get a head start on planning tie-in programming or promotional offers.

The possibilities for advertisers can range from on- package promotions to product placements in TV programs as well as movies, Litvak noted.

In past years, the RoadShow stopped in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. But the East Coast and Midwest versions of this year's tour were dropped, said Litvak, because L.A. is the best place for prospective clients to meet with studio executives and talent.

This year's event will be held at a multiplex movie theater in Los Angeles, Litvak said.

RoadShow clients agree. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. senior vice president of worldwide promotions Mary Goss Robino praised the consolidation, and said it "will allow us to present to one larger audience without the added travel time."

The inclusion of presentations by the TV programmers will make the event "even more beneficial" to Anheuser-Busch Cos., said director of entertainment marketing Dean Ayers.

That expansion should help attendance rise to "600 or 700," Litvak projected. Last fall, 550 attended all three shows, with the lion's share (about 300) making the L.A. stop.

On each of the three days, the networks will present show clips and the like from 9 a.m. until lunch, Litvak explained. The movie studios will make their pitches in the afternoon.

Six of last year's participating filmmakers have already renewed and will plug future theatrical and home-video releases, he said. They are Columbia Pictures, Miramax Films, MGM, New Line Cinema, 20th Century-Fox and Warner Brothers. (Other participants last fall included Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Pictures and DreamWorks.)

On the advertiser side, he said, past attendees have included virtually all the major soft-drink marketers (The Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc., Dr Pepper Co. and Seven-Up Co.); fast-food accounts (McDonald's Corp., Wendy's International and Taco Bell); and credit-card companies (American Express Co., MasterCard and Visa International).

Food giants like Campbell Soup Co., General Mills Inc., Kellogg Co. and Kraft Foods, as well as candy maker M&M/Mars Inc. and brewer Heineken USA have also made the scene in the past.

Officials representing such ad agencies as Leo Burnett USA, DDB Needham, Saatchi & Saatchi, TBWA/Chiat/Day and J. Walter Thompson Co. have participated, as have officials from Adlink, the Los Angeles interconnect.

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