‘TiVo Buster’ From AOL, Burnett, CBS

NEW YORK In a cross-platform first, AOL and Mark Burnett, creator of the Survivor and The Apprentice reality shows, have teamed with CBS to mount a Web-based treasure hunt titled Gold Rush!

Real-life “gold diggers” will race to find more than $2 million in bullion stashed across America.

“CBS can offer advertisers a way to make their [ads] more relevant,” said Burnett. “It’s a TiVo buster—instead of people TiVo-ing through the commercials, they’re going to be TiVo-ing again and again to watch the commercials.”

The interactive reality series will appear on AOL.com, with sister sites AIM.com, Moviefone.com and MapQuest.com also posting clues. Joining the AOL network in disseminating clues will be outlets including the CBS TV network, radio broadcasts, magazines and mobile media. Some clues will even be aired via commercials.

Last summer, Dulles, Va.-based AOL Webcast the Live 8 concerts and is now seeking to bolster its entertainment fare and generate new sources of ad dollars. (Earlier AOL forays into online reality programming included The Biz, a co-venture with Warner Music Group, and Start Up, which dealt with launching a boutique enterprise.)

What are Gold Rush!‘s prospects for luring advertisers? George Schweitzer, president of the CBS Marketing Group, noted, “Since we announced it at our upfront yesterday at Carnegie Hall, our sales department was swamped with requests for presentations.” He attributed this apparent enthusiasm to the series’ “unique nature, the time of year, the fact that it’s big TV and a big online service, plus that it’s the first interactive game that transcends both media—and also that Mark Burnett created it.

“With advertisers looking to engage more, this creates a new opportunity,” added Schweitzer. Clues will test viewers’ knowledge of existing programming and commercials. “Certainly you’re going to be much more engaged with the programming and the commercials,” he said. “You have to be watching to play.”

Burnett expects the Gold Rush! audience to span several generations, much like Survivor‘s. “We all like the idea of a treasure hunt,” he said. “It’s a well known fact that the group includes the kids, the parents and the grandparents. It has a very wide appeal.

“Rather than leave it as an Internet reality show, I wanted to make it a very large platform across the country,” said Burnett. “It’s pop culture.”

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