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Toyota Aims Young,
Sponsors Fox Spinoff
For Cellphone Screens

April 24, 2006; Page B1

Toyota Motor Corp. is trying to break out of the TV ad prison.

In a first-of-its-kind agreement, Toyota Motor and News Corp.'s Fox network plan to announce today that they have cut an extensive deal for the auto company to sponsor -- and be featured in -- a spinoff series for mobile phones of the hit drama "Prison Break." Toyota, as part of the cross-platform deal, also will sponsor exclusive content for a Web site dedicated to the program and get ad exclusivity in several episodes in May as the series nears its season finale.

Each two-minute mobile episode of Fox's "Prison Break: Proof of Innocence" will start with a 10-second message that showcases the Yaris, Toyota's new subcompact sedan. It's the first time ads have been incorporated into this type of content, the network says.

The development of TV shows for mobile phones is in its infancy in the U.S., but the Toyota deal takes the nascent industry to a new level. It establishes a potentially useful paradigm for how TV companies might set up integrated marketing deals at a time when advertisers are clamoring for opportunities to buy space on new-media platforms.

In a move that makes the deal more lucrative, each two-minute mobile episode of "Prison Break: Proof of Innocence" will start with a 10-second marketing message created by Publicis Groupe SA's Saatchi & Saatchi that showcases the Yaris, Toyota's new subcompact sedan. It's the first time ads have been incorporated into this type of content, says Jean Rossi, Fox's executive vice president of sales. "Our advertising clients want to be everywhere their customers are," she says.

Toyota says it pursued the mobile series as a way to break free from the traditional 60-second TV spot and go after young consumers. The TV show "Prison Break," about a man who commits a crime so he can get thrown into jail and help his apparently falsely imprisoned brother break out, has a particularly strong following among adults ages 18 to 34, a group increasingly comfortable watching TV on portable devices.

Terms of the ad pact weren't disclosed, but analysts put the deal in the ballpark of $10 million.

"Toyota hasn't really been on the radar screen for many young people, so it was really important to do something to get their attention," says Jim Farley, vice president of Toyota marketing. The campaign is part of Toyota's bid to shed some of its utilitarian image and embed more personality into its cars. Indeed, Toyota describes the Yaris as "cheeky."

This is Fox's second major foray into TV shows for cellphones. Last year, the company trademarked the term "mobisode," for an episode of a TV show shown on a mobile phone, when it released a companion series to its hit show "24" called "24: Conspiracy."

The company has also produced three other mobile series, with about 25 episodes each. Although the market for cellphone drama is still small in the U.S. -- only about 3% of the people with cellphones have versions that can play video clips regularly, according to consulting firm Yankee Group -- it is growing fast, sparking a boom in TV production for the super-small screen.


All of the TV networks are rolling out content -- CBS Corp. is working on a soap opera for mobile phones -- along with some upstarts such as Two Minute Television Inc. So far, most TV content on cellphones has been news footage.

Fox's efforts haven't been without controversy: The executive producer of "24" complained that the mobisodes -- made with nonunion actors and writers to keep costs down -- weakened the franchise when they came out last year. "They were by definition really kind of amateurish because they were nonunion," says Howard Gordon, a "24" executive producer. "That may be why we're not doing year two of them."

Lucy Hood, president of Fox Mobile Entertainment, says "24: Conspiracy" was a creative success. She notes that it is nominated for a special Emmy Award and has been translated into six languages and distributed in 25 countries.

Ms. Hood says the company has learned a lot since the "24" phone shows. The "Prison Break" mobisodes, which will be available to Sprint customers starting this week, are two minutes long, twice as long as those for "24," allowing for better story and character development. For instance, the main character is a goody-goody ("I have to help! He's my friend!") but intrepid (she cuts through police tape to snoop on a crime scene) and when the going gets tough, she flirts.

"Prison Break: Proof of Innocence" wasn't written by the same people who work on the regular series, and the mobisodes won't feature actors from the show, although the original producers have veto power over anything. The series introduces the character of Amber McCall and follows her path to exonerate her friend L.J., who has disappeared after being framed for murder. In the regular series, L.J. is the son of one of the lead characters. Amber will be played by actress Mandell Maughan; Fox says this is her first professional acting credit.

The show has its share of action sequences -- and product plugs. In one episode, a character drives up to a house -- in a Yaris, of course -- breaks in and riffles through papers on a desk. Her cellphone rings, and she spills papers all over the floor. While she is talking on the phone, a person suddenly attacks her from behind, and the line goes dead.

Three or four mobisodes will be released each week beginning this week and will be available free to Sprint customers who have paid for a video package. They will be available on demand to watch anytime. After two weeks, they will be made available on

The marketing partnership between Toyota and Fox also includes a Toyota-branded "Prison Break" microsite within that will offer unique content tied to the series. For instance, the site will feature streaming video from the show's season-end wrap party, says John Trimble, senior vice president of ad sales for Fox Interactive Media. Visitors to the site can also register for the chance to land a walk-on role in the show next season.

Write to Brooks Barnes at

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