The original National Lampoon Radio Hour, which ran for just over a year in the early 1970s, is still considered one of the best radio comedy shows ever produced.
It provided early exposure for the original "Saturday Night Live" crew, including Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and the late John Belushi.
Now the Lampoon franchise is being resurrected at a Los Angeles studio for a variety of AM, FM and satellite formats geared toward today's highly segmented radio market. The first installment of a new weekend comedy countdown show was sent last week to program directors at potential radio station affiliates, including several in the Los Angeles market.
The core offering of the National Lampoon Radio Network will be two 24/7 radio formats set to launch this spring. The first is a "hot talk" FM format blending guy talk, politics and comedy for "guys, and chicks who get it" aimed at Howard Stern listeners who haven't made the jump with him to Sirius Satellite Radio Inc.
Network chief executive and longtime radio show host Kent Emmons says the format is designed to push the envelope without imperiling a station's FCC license. Edgier fare will be reserved for a satellite version, and the network has been in discussions about that with both Sirius and XM Satellite Radio Inc.
"We're the most recognized brand in comedy so they want the brand affiliation," said Emmons, founder and former chairman of another radio network, Hollywood-based All Comedy Networks. He said that at least three L.A. stations are in serious talks about switching to either the hot-talk format or a second 24/7 format more tightly focused on pre-recorded comedy with a live host.
For AM and FM stations not willing to change their entire format, the network is offering two weekend shows, including the National Lampoon Comedy Hour, with programming most like the original sketch-focused show. The most interest from stations so far has been for the three-hour National Lampoon Comedy Countdown, which will feature the comedy bits from broadcast shows and comedy club acts. Emmons is co-hosting the show with Kerri Kasem, daughter of countdown radio legend Casey Kasem.
Publicly held National Lampoon Inc. licensed the National Lampoon Radio Hour name to the limited partnerships that own the network and also has an equity stake in the venture, Emmons said. The network's celebrity-studded board, which includes Improv Comedy Club chain founder Bud Friedman, film producer Barry Levinson, and "Law and Order" TV star Richard Belzer, also has a financial interest.
Univision Online, the interactive division of Los Angeles-based Univision Communications Inc., has hired New York-based Revenue Science to provide a more sophisticated presentation of advertisements on its online site, among the Internet's most heavily visited Spanish-language sites.
Most ad-serving software pairs an ad with a Web page with complementary content, such as placing an automobile ad next to an automotive story. Revenue Science's behavioral targeting technology takes the process one step further by tracking a visitor's usage of the client's site and serving ads based on the reader's most important interests, regardless of page content. Thus a regular visitor who frequently reads personal finance stories might be shown a financial services ad even when visiting an automotive page.
"It enables advertisers to buy ads that target a very distinct user, not just someone who might occasionally look at particular content," said Nick Johnson, Revenue Science's chief executive. Univision is the company's first foreign-language client. The company also works with the online sites of Irvine-based Kelly Blue Book Inc. and Westlake Village-based Homestore Inc.
Consumers don't mind product placements shown in the context of the plot of a film or TV show, and often find they provide realism to a scene, said Jim Taylor, vice chairman of the Waterbury, Conn.-based Harrison Group market research firm.
That has to be good news for advertisers and marketing firms navigating the brave new world of branded entertainment. The information comes from a national consumer survey presented last week at VNU's second "The Next Big Idea" conference in Hollywood.
Celebrity product endorsements also attract young consumers in particular, more so if the celebrity is someone they trust and admire.
But the survey, conducted online earlier this month with 873 consumers, ages 13 to 70, pointed to some challenges for entertainment producers and marketers who want to reach tech-savvy younger consumers and their time-stretched parents and grandparents.
Entertainment is increasingly valued as much for how it enables viewers or listeners to connect with family and peer groups as for the artistic content itself, the survey suggested. "It still must be fun, but it must also give you things to talk about later," Taylor said. "People see entertainment as a way to help them get along better with other people. It's a necessary part of our social world."
Instead of passively viewing entertainment, consumers want to be able to personalize and, to a certain extent, participate in the process, as well as control how and when that content is delivered to them. That gives the edge to content that can be packaged for wireless and on-demand platforms, as well as video games and interactive Internet services that enable users to alter or create their own short videos and other content to share with others.
"This presents a lot of challenges to marketers in getting their message across, where they need to go to get the eyeballs," Taylor said.
With his latest venture, former MCA Records president Jay Boberg is hoping to ride the rising wave of new media technology by controlling the content rather than trying to predict which platform will prevail. With financial backing from Beverly Hills-based media and entertainment private equity specialists Clarity Partners LP, Boberg and his partners have launched a Los Angeles-based distribution company called Liberation Entertainment.
The company's core holdings come from its acquisition of Liberty International Entertainment, which owns the rights to more than 250 films (Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Halloween"), 2,400 hours of episodic television ("Daniel Boone" and "The Invisible Man") music concert programs featuring artists including Tom Petty and the Gipsy Kings. Boberg and his partners plan to slice and dice the shows for the various emerging distribution platforms. Thes will include DVD boxed sets of popular baby-boomer TV series and digital downloads of comedy and music snippets suitable for cell phone or iPods.
*Staff reporter Deborah Crowe can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 232, or at dcrowe@labusiness journal.com .
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