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In real estate, as in advertising, location is key. To that end, a group of home builders in the San Francisco Bay area is backing the creation of a local half-hour television show they hope can reap better returns than print ads or TV spots.

The show, Bay Area New Home Living Featuring Sunset Magazine, was the brainchild of independent agency Gauger & Santy in San Francisco, which represents several of the builders. The first segment aired this weekend on KPIX, and seven more episodes are in the works.

"We thought it would be a great synergy between the two—offering the Bay Area the editorial content of interest to the home-buying public … and also creating a venue to highlight these new-home communities," said David Gauger, agency president.

The show includes two- to three-minute "sponsored segments" from the builders, which are interspersed with editorial content on decor, architecture and lifestyle provided by Sunset.

"Being embedded in a show like this one is almost like having a third-party endorsement. The viewers don't perceive this as advertising. It's almost more of a documentary," said Alex Barry, marketing director of Rivermark, one of the show's advertisers.

Dividing the cost of the show among several developers makes TV marketing more affordable for regional builders, said Barry.

The show's budget was not disclosed, but sources said the creation of such content for local programming ranges from $25,000 to $100,000 per episode.

The Bay Area show is not a first. WorldLink, a media-sales firm in Los Angeles and New York, worked with a TV distributor to create a similar syndicated program for national home builder Ryland Homes in December.

That show, America's Moving to …, highlighted cities around the country, particularly those where Ryland has a presence. It was sold to local stations, and its first eight episodes aired in 45 percent of the U.S. TV market. Currently on hiatus, it is being revamped as a national program for relaunch in September.

Ryland saw traffic to its Web site increase by 200 percent, and the number of calls to its 800 number doubled, said Toni Knight, president of WorldLink. "Now we're hoping to bring in other national advertisers and talking to national cable distributors."

"It is interesting that the power of the medium is working on a local level. 'Content creation' is the hot phrase of the season," said Kathryn Thomas, associate director of entertainment for Publicis' Starcom MediaVest Group Entertainment.

"It's not so much about product placement or integration but actually developing content that appeals to your target audience and gives advertisers a subtle yet appropriate presence," Thomas added.

National advertisers are also moving into this area. Pepsi, for one, is planning two shows on The WB Network for this summer, Pepsi Play for a Billion, a game show, and Pepsi Smash, a live-music show.

Thomas likened content creation to sponsored TV shows from the '40s and '50s such as Texaco Star Theater. "They didn't do it in a gas station, but it had wonderful content that appealed to the target audience."