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Viacom is testing social networking platforms for TV, ad integration

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MUMBAI:The phenomenon of social networking is growing rapidly in the US and MTV is the latest media firm looking to take advantage of this phenomenon.

It is testing new social-networking platforms that will integrate television programming with virtual world technology, resulting in interactive experiences that let viewers personally experience -- and 'live' for themselves -- the content they see on-air.

The new platforms are in early stage development and will evolve in partnership with advertisers and audience feedback. MTV says that it could help define next-generation media and advertising models.

The company is working hand-in-hand with Pepsi, Mediavest Worldwide and OMD on the development of a beta version of the first platform Virtual Laguna Beach. This is built around the successful MTV series Laguna Beach.

MTV president music, films, Logo Van Toffler noted that the platforms will deliver immersive environments that are not only reflective of, but parallel to, the world viewers see on
television. These universes take viewers beyond passive consumption to active engagement with programming and with marketers' messages. A beta version of Virtual Laguna Beach is at www.vlb.mtv.com.

Other virtual worlds are planned later this year for the broader music community and for viewers of Logo. This makes it one of the first such applications for the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community.

Toffler says, "Our audience wants more interaction with our content and with each other. Virtual Laguna Beach lets our audience become the stars themselves, stepping onto a virtual stage and living the life they see -- or would like to see -- on television.

"Virtual Laguna Beach also is just one example of the next-generation media models that we're creating for our viewers to connect with one another in ways they never could before; for content creators to develop experiences that live side by side with on-air content; and for marketers to become an integral and meaningful part of the programming."

MTV executive VP Jeff Yapp programme enterprises notes that the media models give rise to a new concept of social networking by combining two elements audiences love --
popular television programming and emerging virtual world technology.

He says, "Virtual Laguna Beach and the other models we are developing hold the potential for ushering in a new era of audience engagement.

MTV says that the platforms offer the ideal environment for marketers to seamlessly weave their messages into the overall experience.Viewers in- world also can choose to interact with sponsors' content and also purchase virtual as well as physical goods. MTV is working with its advertisers to help them become an integral part of each experience so they can reach their consumers -- our audience -- in meaningful ways.

Marketer Support: A number of marketers and media buyers have pledged their support for Virtual Laguna Beach. Pepsi says that through Virtual Laguna Beach the brandwill be able to interact with consumers in ways that it never thought possible.

Mediavest says that platforms like Virtual Laguna Beach allows it to achieve much more than a simple campaign extension. They offer the opportunity to dimensionalize the brand and infuse brand attributes into the user experience in a smart, fun, engaging way.

OMD notes that this opportunity is an extension of the truly convergent partnership between it and MTV. It allows clients the opportunity to connect with the audience of one of MTV's premier properties in a much deeper and personal way.

Virtual Laguna Beach transports viewers directly to Orange County, California, where they live in the same environment as their favorite cast members, and interact with other fans through real-time chat. Viewers can hang out at the beach or shop at the local surf store and interact with one another in ways that mirror the on-air program. Just as the cast gears up
for the Winter Formal, so too can viewers within Virtual Laguna Beach prepare for the big night, find a date online and select the tux or prom dress for their on-screen identity.

The third season of the reality drama premiered last month and chronicles the coming-of-age stories of various high school stories in the upscale seaside town. On MTV.com fans can join the VIP section of the Laguna Beach Surf Club. Die-hard fans also can go to MTV's Overdrive broadband channel to get exclusive content, first looks, community features, games and much more.

MTV is also working with Makena Technologies on the development of Virtual Laguna Beach and the forthcoming Logo environment. MTV Networks is also working with Doppelganger, formerly Evil Twin Studios, on the virtual
music environment.

MTV Networks selected Makena Technologies, creators of the 3D social virtual world There.com. Makena is helping develop Virtual Laguna Beach and the forthcoming Logo-based experience. The selection leverages Makena's many years of experience in developing one of the Internet's largest 3D social virtual worlds, its understanding of the youth demographic, its
development of an in-world economy, and its sophisticated integration of user-created content.

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