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And This Is Convergence

Leave measuring engagement up to the scientists, since advertisers and marketers are still hooked on frequency.

Have the media monoliths caught onto the idea that the number of bodies in the room is probably less important than what those bodies are doing there?

Really, this is just a shout-out:Multimedia Games Create TV-Show Buzz

By EMILY STEEL December 7, 2007; Page B4

Last month, hundreds of people around the country spent hours of their free time on the Web and out on the streets in search of clues that would help them solve a complex puzzle called "Chain Factor." [This isn't exactly the spectacular figure Ms. Steel might have us believe - consider the number of people who spent hours of their free time looking at porn.]

It wasn't some school assignment or the latest experiment in community building [because we have so much evidence that people choose to spend hours on that shit, right?], it was part of an elaborate promotion by CBS Corp. A game by the same name had been featured during a recent episode of the show "Numb3rs," and the network was using the real-world version of the game to help drive traffic to the show.

Not a garden, a plant: CBS billboard is part of a coded game for fans of the show "Numb3rs."

CBS and other networks see games such as "Chain Factor" as a new way to market TV shows and experiment with non-TV spinoffs for those shows, which they can then pitch to advertisers. The networks hope to package those sponsorships in various ways. Companies might embed one of the game clues in an ad, or one of the company's products might be integrated into the contest. CBS, which says it has yet to sign any advertisers, is operating a similar game to drum up interest for the drama "Jericho" before it returns to the air next season."

It's not the first time a TV network or entertainment company has ginned up a game to build buzz for a show or product, but CBS's effort is different in that the games draw on all of its entertainment units, from billboards in its CBS Outdoor division to its mobile properties. CBS plans to use these kinds of sprawling online/offline games to promote more of its shows. [This is what I'm talking about. They should be doing this all the time.]

For the networks and the entertainment companies, the games can be expensive to create and time-consuming to manage. Some marketers say the potential payoff is dubious, as the games may appeal most to people who already are fans of the show or to folks who are more gamers than TV watchers.

For many "Chain Factor" players, including Brooke Thompson, a 36-year-old Web designer in Atlanta, the game was kicked off by email from a character in a "Numb3rs" episode named Spectre. Working collaboratively, players found clues and shared discoveries via an online forum. Some of the first clues were unearthed on via error messages that popped up when people were playing the site's main attraction, a Tetris-like game. Clues took them on a quest from a digital billboard at the Mall of America in Minnesota to ads on mobile Web sites.

The error messages directed players to send text messages with the word "chain" to the short code 38383. The response looked like jargon: "Check these HOT* stocks! FOFN, NDGPF, COFI, TTWO, EBKLF, DADVF, RTHTF and FSPX. Info? Go 2 . or txt Help to 38383 *Not real investment advice." The game was designed by the New York-based company area/code.

Some players managed to decode that message by recognizing the capitalized letters as stock-ticker symbols and then using those company names to unlock other clues. That, in turn, led them to billboards in certain cities, such as a large red-and-orange sign in San Francisco that showed a woman planting flowers and listed the Web address (The billboards serve no marketing purpose beyond the game.) [Then that's just a wasted opportunity.] After weeks, some players unlocked the final clue last weekend and received an email from Spectre declaring their victory.

The goal with scavenger-hunt-like games is to build buzz among an audience that is hard to reach through traditional advertising. Designing such intricate games often is an adventure of its own, costing anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

One challenge: pumping out the clues fast enough to keep up with the players. Unlike regularly scheduled TV shows where networks decide when to roll out each episode, players set the schedule with these games.

With a game affiliated with ABC's "Lost," Ms. Thompson and others were able to decipher within minutes all the computer code used to build the site, and they solved a number of clues before they were supposed to be solved.

"You would be all excited because you would find something...but then if the designers aren't prepared, it's frustrating," she said. "We were just kind of hanging around and waiting for the next clue to be given."

Said Michael Benson, executive vice president of marketing at Walt Disney's ABC Entertainment: "I was amazed how fast this stuff was consumed."

With CBS's game for "Jericho," a handful of people work around the clock to monitor the Web sites where players are posting their discoveries, trying to make sure the network doesn't fall behind.

While the games are aimed at creating new audiences for shows, that's not always the way it plays out. Sean Stacey, president of gaming site, says he fell asleep during the episode of "Numb3rs" and probably won't watch it again, but he did enjoy playing the game.

"The 'Chain Factor' game actually is more interesting," he said.

Write to Emily Steel at

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