Television Listings

Rhapsody's exclusive ads target music consumers

By Antony Bruno

DENVER (Billboard) - All the TV ads that came out in support of Green Day's new album, "21st Century Breakdown," featured the lead single "Know Your Enemy." But only one advertiser got exclusive footage of the band -- online music service Rhapsody.

While it isn't unusual for retailers and other partners to air ads featuring a song clip or music video when promoting a new release, it's rare for artists to film custom footage for them. But Rhapsody executives say the Green Day ad is just the first in what will be a series of TV spots featuring artists with new music coming out, about one every other month. Next on deck is Rob Thomas, with more to follow.

When the RealNetworks-owned Rhapsody and MTV's Urge music service merged to form what is now Rhapsody America, MTV committed $230 million in airtime for Rhapsody advertising on MTV Networks' channels. Rhapsody aims to leverage that commitment not only to advertise its service but to get what it really wants from each artist involved -- exclusive content. Green Day, for example, made "21st Century Breakdown" available for streaming on Rhapsody for a week before its May 15 release. The album also appeared on Rhapsody partner sites like MTV's the Leak.

Based on viewership data from the networks that aired the Green Day ad, Rhapsody estimates it reached close to 150 million viewers in the first two weeks while also generating 100,000 plays on MySpace and YouTube. The album debut set a new single-day traffic record for the Rhapsody home page, as well as a new streaming record for an album, with 430,000 streams in three days -- three times that of the previous recordholder, Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter III."

TWO-WAY STREET

But artists and labels hoping for similar results should be aware that Rhapsody won't work with just anyone. The company expects artists and labels to support the ad campaign with links on their Web site, fan communication and any resources the label can bring to drive fans to Rhapsody.

"We want to make sure they're willing to commit themselves to the project," says David Krinsky, general manager of label relations for Rhapsody. "If an artist thinks we're just going to throw an ad at them, we're not that interested."

According to Peter Standish, senior vice president of marketing at Warner Bros./Reprise, Green Day's label, the key to Rhapsody's ability to maintain that stance is to create a good ad, which he says is exactly what happened in this case. As much as labels can use the free advertising, there's always a concern about how the act's image and music are used.

"You have to make sure the band is presented in a credible and favorable way," Standish says. "Not all impressions are created equal."

In this respect, Green Day seems to have found a workable model. The 30-second ad depicts the band members preparing to take the stage, with the lead track playing in the background. Scattered about backstage in the dressing room and on the path to the stage are more than 50 visual clues that reference past Green Day albums, videos and themes -- such as the grenade from "American Idiot" and the masked guys from "Basket Case" -- which Green Day and its management helped to select.

The next ads in the series will use much the same model.

The goal of the spots isn't to explain Rhapsody's subscription service -- something that's virtually impossible to do in 30 seconds. Instead, they serve two purposes: to promote the service as a way to acquire exclusive music and to let fans know where to find it.

Services like Rhapsody have struggled to communicate the benefits of the music "rental" model. By scoring exclusive streaming rights to hit songs, Rhapsody hopes to attract fans to its site, where it can make its case directly. The ability to do so will be especially important in the wake of rival Napster's launch of an aggressively priced $5-per-month streaming and download hybrid plan.

"It's a great driver to get people to come to our site, where we can better explain the value of subscription," Krinsky says. "These ads become a hook to tell that story."

While Apple pioneered the practice of trading exclusive content for advertising with such acts as Coldplay, Eminem and Bob Dylan, the company's ads lately seem to be more focused on iPhone apps than artists. That leaves an opening for Rhapsody to exploit.

(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)

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