Internet Contest Giving Away NBC Airtime

NBC is looking to promote viewership of its Wednesday sitcom “Ed,” as well as to drive traffic to the portal of its Internet subsidiary, through a contest offering Web surfers the chance at 30 seconds of primetime, national airtime.

Users of Los Angeles-based NBC Internet’s NBCi portal have until next week to register for the “Live Surprise” contest, which offers four winners the opportunity to deliver a live message during a 30-second spot. The spots will air during four episodes of “Ed” in May.

Participants must register what they want to say at NBCi.com by April 11, and must submit sample videotapes of their message by April 21.

NBCi said it envisions entrants sending Mother’s Day messages or telling off a frustrating boss. In fact, it’s encouraging participants to be as creative and wacky as possible. While four entrants will get the chance to air their message, the creator of the best surprise message — as judged by NBCi users — will win $5,000.

There’s an incentive for NBCi users to rate the entrants, as well. Each time people rates the messages, they can enter a drawing to win one of five $1,000 prizes.

NBC is promoting the effort through several spots airing in primetime and late night.

The four finalists for the live TV message will be selected on April 25, but their identities will be kept secret until the messages air during “Ed”. NBCi will stream the surprises on NBCi.com following the live broadcasts.

While the effort is a light-hearted way for NBC to promote offline and online content, the move comes as several large media companies are launching similar efforts.

AOL Time Warner, for instance, routinely promotes Time Inc. print publications and content from its TV divisions — like CNN, for instance — on its online properties. Likewise, Viacom recently announced a new initiative at MTV’s interactive unit to more closely integrate the division with the cable TV music network.

“Amidst a lot of talk about convergence, we continue to develop effective programs that will increase the interactivity between NBC and NBCi, while presenting our viewers and users with exciting opportunities,” said NBCi chief executive Will Lansing.

NBC said the idea was inspired by the success of February’s “NBCi.com Primetime Valentine” contest, in which the winner proposed during the telecast of “Ed.” According to the network, that contest drew nearly 40,000 entries, and more than 12 million viewers saw the spot on-air.

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