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Cable Network Begins Auditions

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The Game Show Network is looking for agencies ready to compete for a $5-7 million account that was most recently handled by TBWA\Chiat\Day's San Francisco office

Although network brass said they were "very happy'' with Chiat's work, both the client and the agency said the split was by mutual agreement.

Indeed, network senior vice president of marketing Dina Kaplan had nothing but praise for the creative work produced by Chiat, which landed the account in September 1999. Still, she said the client is seeking a "more boutique type of agency that can work with us on a more collaborative basis.''

She indicated the Los Angeles-based network would prefer a West Coast agency and expects to make a decision "some time in May or June." Although the focus is on finding a new creative shop, she added that the review could potentially include media, which is now handled by Active Media International in New York.

Kaplan stressed that the decision to hire a new shop was made prior to a recent shift in ownership. Sony Picture Entertainment launched the network six years ago, using Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune and other titles from its library. The company recently finalized a deal to sell a 50 percent stake to Liberty Digital.

The new co-owner is, however, a clear indication of the network's direction. A unit of John Malone's Liberty Media Group, Liberty Digital is expected to help the Game Show Network become an interactive venue that enables home viewers to participate in the televised programming.

Interactive options may also be the key to elevating the network's meager ratings and help propel distribution beyond the 31 million cable and satellite homes now on board.

According to Nielsen Data for the fourth quarter of 2000, the network earned a 0.1 household rating in total daytime viewers. While the figure represents an increase of 7,000 homes over the same quarter in 1999, the numbers are unlikely to excite advertisers.

In terms of distribution, the Game Show Network scored a coup with recent rollouts in major markets including the Adelphis system in Los Angeles and Time Warner Cable's digital tier in New York. The network has projected it is on track to reach the 50 million mark before 2003.