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Entertainment Network Tests Agency Waters

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Fast-growing E! Entertainment Television has begun talking to shops about ad projects, sources said last week.
A representative for the Los Angeles-based cable channel confirmed it is talking to shops, but declined to name the agencies or say where they are located.
"We are investigating different things with different people," she said. E! spent $5 million on advertising in 1997, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
E! does not currently have a lead ad agency, utilizing outside shops and an internal department for creative duties, the representative added. Like most networks, E! handles media buying in-house, but it's possible a selected agency would handle both creative and media duties, she said.
The representative declined to say who is holding discussions with agencies. Two key players in E's ad strategies, said sources, are president and chief executive Lee Masters and senior vice president of marketing Dale Hopkins.
"Management is on a real drive to upgrade the network across the board," said one source familiar with E's management team. "Part of that may be to get a new ad agency."
The E! representative said, however, that the agency discussions are not related to a brand-building strategy. "E! has a very strong brand right now," she said.
Founded in June 1990, the 24-hour entertainment-dedicated network is now available to roughly 48 million cable and direct broadcast satellite subscribers.
The network recently posted a 3.5 rating--the best showing in its eight-year history--for its live broadcast from the Academy Awards prior to the March 23 ceremony. Other key shows in its programming lineup include Howard Stern, Talk Soup and Celebrity Profile.
The network also operates E! Online as a wholly owned subsidiary.