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ABC's 'Lost' is easy to find, and not just on a TV screen

Fans can get fixes from iPods, blogs, podcasts, and soon, cellphones. It's a new media model.

January 03, 2006|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

In its monster hit "Lost," ABC has found more than just a highly rated, award-winning television show with the potential to spin off sequels. "Lost" has become a world of its own, albeit fictional, that, with its labyrinth of clues and multilayered plots, has become the test case for the marriage between new technology and creative content.

Getting "Lost" has never been easier. It's on your TV set, your DVR, your iPod and DVD collection -- and that's just the Wednesday-night program itself. Surf the Web and there are countless "Lost" sites -- some designed by ABC or the show's creators and others by the legions of fans of the island castaways drama. Soon there will be "Lost Video Diaries" on Verizon cellphones, two-minute episodes that will chronicle the stories of characters who were on the doomed Oceanic Flight 815 but who do not appear on the show.

Still not "Lost" enough? There are books, magazines, trading cards, calendars, apparel and an upcoming board game.

This season, "Lost" is the fourth-ranked show in total viewers and the all-important 18- to 49-year-old demographic. But "Lost" has become something more, a model for a new media age, one that has far-reaching financial implications for artists and producers as new technology almost demands that they produce original content for Internet sites and blogs, DVDs, podcasts and books.

What's happening with "Lost" is also a harbinger of the changing nature of TV watching itself, dividing its followers into two groups: the loyal audience that tunes in every week and the fans who devour every bit of information made available to them on the Internet, books and magazines.

"The show is the mother ship, but I think with all the new emerging technology, what we've discovered is that the world of 'Lost' is not basically circumscribed by the actual show itself," executive producer Carlton Cuse said.

Other networks and producers are following "Lost" closely to see if this multimedia franchising model can work for them. As technology allows more viewers to tune in how and when they want -- most noticeably, commercial free -- networks are looking for new ways to distribute their shows as well as spark buzz about them. To that end, network marketers are working closer than ever with the writers and producers to generate campaigns that blend content with marketing strategies.

Billboards and TV commercial spots? Passe. Taking cues from high-profile promotional campaigns for big movies, ABC mounted an Internet assault last year, which paid off and taught its competitors a thing or two about marketing in this new age. (Fox and NBC followed suit this year with highly successful launches of "Prison Break" and "My Name Is Earl"). Instead of sucking life out of "Lost" by playing clips on the air ad nauseam, ABC went to town creating even more intrigue about the airliner that crashed than co-creators J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof managed to pack into their $11-million, two-hour pilot.

"You have to be judicious about not letting the technology wag the dog of content, if you will," said Stephen McPherson, president of ABC prime-time entertainment. "There are so many different aspects that go into all of these multiple platforms that you just can't say it's a successful show, so let's put it on 20 platforms. But the idea that great content can be used in a multitude of different ways is a wonderful challenge and a wonderful opportunity."

The new platforms provide myriad ways for the networks to sell their shows. "I actually look at marketing more like developing content for the show," said Mike Benson, ABC's senior vice president of marketing. "We're really setting out in our marketing to prove what these shows are. And while we can hype and sell, I'd rather tell a story than sell a story."

ABC is developing an interactive website to delve into aspects of the show's mythology that will never be explored on air. Content for the site is being created by a "Lost" staff writer.

"We obviously come up with these ideas based on the storytelling, what's cool to us," Lindelof said. "But then our masters will provide us with resources to do this stuff if there's a potential revenue stream down the line. So we're scratching each other's backs."

Fans such as Rob Eichenlaub, a Web designer who clicks on the fan website lost-tv.comas soon as "Lost" goes off the air, can't wait to log on to get more clues.

"There's something about this big puzzle that everybody wants to be the first to solve," said Eichenlaub, 29, of Hudson, Fla. "If I was alone in it, it wouldn't be so fun. But it sort of sprung up, this whole subculture of fans who really see it like a video game."

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