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Show pitches ads as entertainment

November 27, 2007|Alana Semuels | Times Staff Writer

Now here's an idea: a 60-minute TV show with 60 minutes' worth of commercials.

It's more than an idea. Firebrand, a media company based in New York, launched the all-commercials-all-the-time show on the ION network (in L.A. on KPXN-TV Channel 30) late Monday with hopes of getting young people to view advertising: as entertainment, not an annoyance.

TV commercials "are a reflection of pop culture," said John A. Lack, a co-founder of MTV who is Firebrand's chief executive. "Kids tell us they love commercials. They just don't love them as interruptions."

The show, called "Firebrand," airs weeknights at 11. On both the show and its sister website, www.firebrand.com, commercial jockeys called CJs introduce the mostly 30-second spots, which are selected by "commercial curators."

Actors who have gained some amount of fame by starring in familiar ads -- Jay Klaitz, for instance, who plays an angel in a Capital One Financial Corp. advertisement -- will be interviewed, the company said in a statement. And "exclusive, director's cuts and never-before-seen-on-TV commercials" will be shown.

Among the companies whose spots were tapped for Firebrand episodes: Subway, Nike Inc. and Gap Inc.

Viewers won't necessarily know which ads are sheer entertainment and which were paid for by a sponsor.

Lack wouldn't disclose how much ad time Firebrand had sold. He said several firms -- including Microsoft Corp. and General Electric Co.'s Peacock Equity Fund -- had invested in the company.

A similar initiative didn't fare well. Brightspot.tv, a website that rewarded people with redeemable credits for watching ads online, went dark last week.

Still, it's not crazy to assume that people enjoy watching television commercials, said Ken Wilbur, an assistant professor of marketing at USC's Marshall School of Business. "There is so much creativity that goes into advertising that you can see the possibilities."

TBS last year launched veryfunnyads.com, a website where people can watch ads and rate them. The major networks broadcast awards shows for the best commercials, and the ads that run during the Super Bowl get a lot of buzz. As advertisers struggle to make their ads stand out, they invest more money to create high-budget productions, often featuring celebrities and up-and-coming bands.

Dana Jones, CEO of Palos Verdes Estates-based Ultramercial, which provides websites with ads that users watch to gain access to content, was skeptical about Firebrand's prospects.

He said he had found that people were hesitant to watch commercials just for the fun of it. "They have to get something in return," he said.

Lack said he was confident that Firebrand would be as successful as MTV, which, after all, showed videos that weren't much more than commercials for musicians.

"We're changing the model again," he said. "We took promotion videos no one wanted and ran them. And this time, we're programming more than just videos."

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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