'American' looking to appeal to teens

With its eighth season kicking off on Fox, “American Idol” is looking to appeal to a new group of teens.

FremantleMedia Enterprises has inked a deal with virtual world Habbo to offer up “Idol”-branded merchandise to the 3 million teens that are members in the U.S.

It’s the first such deal Fremantle has inked for the “Idol” franchise.

Company was looking for a family-friendly online world where it could promote the show but also generate additional revenue by connecting with its massive teen fan base.

Habbo is considered the largest virtual world for teens, with more than 11.5 million unique users in 33 countries visiting Habbo each month. More than 90% of Habbo users are teens age 13-18, who spend an average of 45 minutes on the site per visit.

FremantleMedia didn’t want to create an online version of the singing competish.

“We didn’t want to do anything that replicated the format of the show,” said David Luner, senior VP of interactive and consumer products for FremantleMedia Enterprises, North America. “We wanted to create a way for people to interact with the brand.”

What that means is that members will be able to design their own stages or green rooms by buying “Idol”-branded furniture and sets.

Multiyear deal, which rolls out on Habbo at the end of the month, isn’t limited to the TV season. Company will offer “Idol” products and launch competitions — which judge designs of rooms, for example — throughout the year.

Habbo will thus become the latest means by which FremantleMedia is turning “Idol” into a year-round franchise, after inking a deal with Disney to build a theme-park attraction last year.

Financially, FremantleMedia will benefit from the sales Habbo generates from “Idol” merchandise, which will be priced at $1-$5 per digital good.

Company will also collect coin from sponsorships that Habbo secures to host “Idol”-related competitions or connect to the franchise in other ways in the virtual world.

Sponsors won’t be able to compete in the same categories as those who appear on the TV show: AT&T, Coca-Cola and Ford.

Teemu Huuhtanen, North American prexy of Sulake Inc., the parent company for Habbo, called the FremantleMedia deal the company’s biggest so far with a partner, given the size of the brand and its ongoing activities.

Habbo also has deals with Paramount Digital Entertainment.

While the marketing potential Habbo offers the current season of “Idol” is obvious, the virtual world will enable FremantleMedia to also promote previous contestants who have album releases or are seeking to further their careers.

“It’s not an obligation,” Luner said, “but it’s a natural outlet.”

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