MSN Unveils ‘Rock Star:INXS’ Site, Sponsors

Microsoft’s MSN is expected Thursday to lift the curtain on the Web presence for Mark Burnett Productions’ “Rock Star:INXS” reality show.

The show, which debuts Monday on CBS, chronicles the escapades of 15 contestants as they seek to become the new lead singer for the Australian rock band INXS. As first reported by ClickZ News, MSN is hosting the site and selling online advertising.

So far, only Verizon Wireless and Honda have inked deals to be “premier sponsors” of the site, at rockstar.msn.com. MSN says it’s selling :15 and :30 spots to play with short-form video clips, though none appear to be running at launch. The company is also using the site to promote its own offerings, such as MSN Music, Messenger and Spaces.

On the Web site, users can learn more about the contestants, watch exclusive video content, download songs and buy recordings of the performances on MSN Music. Eventually, they’ll be able to read contestants’ blogs, which will be produced on the portal’s own blogging platform.

MSN has also developed instant messenger content around Rock Star. The company will facilitate chats between fans on its MSN Messenger application, as well as provide show-specific emoticons and backgrounds.

Most importantly, people will be able to vote to determine the outcome of the contest on the site and via MSN Messenger. The online voting process promises to give increased prominence to the Web applications. Similar shows, such as Fremantle Productions’ American Idol, have only allowed voting by phone or by text message.

“Rock Star:INXS” won’t eschew text message voting, however. Sponsor Verizon Wireless is promoting the ability to vote via SMS on a microsite linked from the MSN-hosted show pages. The carrier is also running banners touting rock-themed ringback tones and show-specific video clips that will be available on its Vcast mobile video service.

Honda, for its part, is running banner ads promoting its Ridgeline pick-up truck via banners on the “Rock Star:INXS” home page.

Both Verizon and Honda are also advertising on the television program. Neither could be reached for comment by press time.

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