Warner Brothers Sponsors Podcaster

After getting into some trouble for its early marketing practices in the blogosphere, Warner Brothers Records is dipping its toes in the blog waters once again. The company will sponsor podcasts of the Eric Rice Show and provide exclusive audio content from one of its bands.

The Eric Rice Show, which is produced by Rice and three of his colleagues, features audio musings on entertainment, technology, and culture. Podcasting, the practice of publishing extended audio recordings in a Web feed format, still reaches a very small audience, but many expect it to take off as digital music players proliferate. Financial terms of the deal with Warner Brothers weren’t disclosed.

The agreement calls for the label to give Rice exclusive interviews, banter and impromptu jams featuring “The Used,” which were recorded on the band’s current tour. Starting on Thursday, that material will be made available on Rice’s podcasts. “The Used” is on Warner Brothers’ Reprise label. When Rice uses the content, he’ll disclose the financial relationship between the show and Warner Brothers.

“He’ll incorporate that this is a sponsored message,” said Bill Flitter, CMO of RSS marketing firm Pheedo, which brokered the deal. “It’s basically paid placement. The music becomes the advertisement. The way I sold both these sponsorships is [that they’re] enhancing what someone’s already doing and adding value to it, as opposed to the interruption mode.”

Warner Brothers Records got into some trouble with bloggers last year over the promotion of its band, the Secret Machines. In summer 2004, it was discovered several employees of the label had posted anonymous comments to blogs, praising and defending the label after MP3 blogs criticized its aggressive marketing to them.

Flitter characterized the deal as an attempt by Warner Brothers to start fresh with the blogosphere. He said Warner Brothers isn’t trying to measure results of the sponsorship in any detail.

Even if podcasting finds a big audience, it’s sure to face skepticism about its measurability from marketers who have been trained to expect detailed metrics for all online campaigns. That’s because it’s currently impossible to track whether people are actually listening to downloaded content on their digital music players. Still, marketers are trying to get around those limitations.

In a separate sponsorship facilitated by Pheedo, software provider Citrix has paid for a product placement on blogger Chris Pirillo’s podcast. Listeners will be encouraged to register for a trial of the sponsor’s GoToMeeting platform using a unique code announced specific to that podcast. That sponsorship will break on March 31.

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