‘Idol’ Sponsors Pay More

LOS ANGELES Coca-Cola, Ford and AT&T are back again as the three main sponsors of Fox’s megahit American Idol, but it’s going to cost them.

The three are forking over roughly $35 million each for the opportunity to be featured in America’s most-watched TV show, as well as air commercials during Idol, post online content and run off-air co-branded marketing programs.

The $35 million price tag is up slightly from the estimated $30 million the sponsors spent last season, but the advertisers are likely to get an even better return on their costly investment than they had hoped for. With the writers strike having shut down production on most original scripted programming, Idol, which premieres Tuesday night, is expected to be an even bigger ratings juggernaut than ever.

As far as this season’s integrations, Ford, Coca-Cola and AT&T will for the most part be repeating their in-show performances from years past, with a few new revisions in either content or products featured.

Ford, which will again be featuring its vehicles in music videos with the final 12 contestants that air during the show, will seek to incorporate the Escape Hybrid into the program this season. While the final details of Ford’s integration have not yet been decided, it will give away Hybrids to the two top finalists instead of the Ford Mustangs it has awarded in years past.

“As all of Hollywood and the world is going green and looking at more environmental initiatives, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more involvement creatively from the Ford Escape Hybrid in American Idol,” said Bob Witter, Ford global brand entertainment manager.

The carmaker is also planning to heavily promote its new crossover Ford Edge vehicle in this season’s Idol, as well as its new Sync voice-activated communications and entertainment system for mobile phones and digital music players, which was developed with Microsoft.

Coca-Cola will be back with its branded cups on the judges’ table, the Coca-Cola red room where contestants are interviewed by host Ryan Seacrest and Coke graphics on the LCD flat screen that sits behind contestants on stage.

Coca-Cola spokeswoman Susan Stribling said the red room would be refreshed with new design elements and the flat-screen images on stage will be updated with “Coke Side of Life” graphics.

AT&T, which is believed to reap the greatest benefits of all the partners from its sponsorship of the text message voting every week, as well as Idol downloads, ring tones and even video of bad auditions and performances last year, is expected to be back with similar on- and off-air elements to its campaign. “We’re delighted to be back,” said AT&T representative Mark Siegel. “It’s a great partnership and sponsorship for us.”