Marketing boom in store for XBox game

Microsoft will hit the tube in a big way to promote next week’s launch of its vidgame “Halo 3.”

Company’s been marketing the Xbox 360 title since December, but the last-minute push emphasizes TV, with Microsoft essentially taking over male-skewing cablers Spike TV, Sci Fi Channel and Comedy Central over the three days leading up to the title’s Tuesday bow.

“They’re all ‘Halo’ nights,” said Chris Di Cesare, Xbox’s director of product marketing. “We’re just magnifying the mania.”

Move is significant because in addition to the more than $10 million in TV ads that Microsoft will buy, it’s also co-producing original programming to get gamers and newcomers interested in not just the next installment of the “Halo” franchise but the Xbox 360 console as well.

“All of the networks reach a bit of a different audience than the gaming-enthusiast websites,” Di Cesare said. “You are reaching a broader audience because it’s broadcast.”

Specific channels were targeted because “they focus on our demo, and our ad campaigns are running on them,” Di Cesare added.

Comedy Central kicks off the effort Saturday with “Fully Loaded,” a series of two-minute interstitials hosted by “Mad TV” cast member Bobby Lee and airing throughout the night on the cabler.

They were taped at a celeb-filled “Halo 3″ party at the Venetian Hotel’s Tao Beach nightclub in Las Vegas timed around MTV’s Video Music Awards and the unveiling of “Halo” star Master Chief at the Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

On Monday, Spike TV’s “Game Head” vidgame show will host a live feed from the “Halo 3″ launch event at Best Buy’s flagship store in New York City, breaking into a broadcast of James Bond actioner “GoldenEye” throughout the night.

After midnight, cabler airs half-hour special “Halo 3: Launched!,” featuring a performance by Linkin Park and interviews with “Halo” fans. Channel started promoting its “Halo” programming Wednesdayduring “UFC Unleashed.”

And on launch day, Tuesday, Sci Fi Channel bows half-hour “Halo 3: Sci vs. Fi,” which examines the making of the game and will air twice on the cabler.

G-Net Media (behind vidgame shows “Settle the Score” and “Fresh Baked Video Games”) co-produced the special.

Programming on the three cablers, which will feature actors, musicians and athletes, will supplement the hours of launch coverage that other channels have planned for Monday.

For example, vidgame-focused web G4 has set five hours of live coverage from the New York launch event.

Planned programming also comes on top of the tens of millions of dollars Microsoft is spending to advertise the game across the board, as well as the marketing support promotional partners such as Mountain Dew, 7-Eleven, Burger King, Pontiac and Comcast are contributing to the game’s release.

Microsoft serves as a co-producer on much of the TV programming set to air, with the networks offering up the time to run the content as part of the company’s ad buy on the cablers.

A major push on a channel like MTV wasn’t in the cards because the game is rated M, for mature, and Microsoft is targeting the 18- to 24-year-old male aud rather than the more female-skewing demo that MTV attracts.

Versions of Microsoft’s “Halo” content, as well as exclusive fare, also will appear on each cabler’s website, as well as on Xbox Live, the downloading service available via the Xbox 360 console.

Big TV push tops what Microsoft did in 2004 for the release of “Halo 2,” when company merely ran a special on MTV.

This time, Microsoft has ramped up its ad efforts across the board to top the $125 million earned in the first day of release by the first “Halo” sequel, developed by Bungie Studios.

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