Location as Product Placement

When NBC airs its fall television lineup, Monday-night viewers will quickly become familiar with the casino’s shimmering gold towers and sumptuous high-roller suites. On Sept. 29, they will see Mandalay Bay playing itself in the “Fear Factor” gross-out reality show. Later that night, and each week thereafter, Mandalay will take on the fictional role of the Montecito Resort & Casino in “Las Vegas” — one of NBC’s top drama prospects this fall — alongside the show’s other star, James Caan.

All this attention is the fruit of an unusually close partnership between NBC, owned by General Electric Co., and Mandalay Resort Group, which owns Mandalay Bay as well as the Luxor pyramid casino, the Excaliber and others. The relationship is so close that Mandalay Resort Group President Glenn Schaeffer gets a cameo in “Las Vegas.” He plays the casino’s fictional owner, artfully named … Glenn Schaeffer. “I show up in foreboding moments and look pretty grim,” he says.

In a deal that has spawned plenty of favor-trading but no cash payments, NBC gets to film free of charge the Mandalay’s gambling halls and other rooms, in a city that makes ratings soar. “Fear Factor,” known for its gross-out stunts, is particularly popular with young male viewers, as is Vegas. “Vegas has a sexiness that appeals to our demographic,” says Matt Kunitz, the show’s executive producer. The “Fear Factor” crew and contestants received more than 820 room nights at Mandalay, Luxor and the Monte Carlo resorts, and 2,100 free meals, which Mr. Kunitz valued at about $400,000. “We couldn’t travel the show without that support,” Mr. Kunitz says, referring to the on-location shooting. The budget for a typical episode, filmed in Southern California, is about $1 million.

Marsha Thomason, Josh Duhamel and Nikki Cox in NBC’s drama ‘Las Vegas,’ coming this fall.

In turn, Mandalay gets a giant product placement built into the shows that can’t be zapped by viewers’ remotes or by recording devices such as TiVo, which is a hot issue in advertising these days. “It’s a great infomercial,” says Mr. Schaeffer. The casino’s Las Vegas-based ad agency, R&R Partners, estimates the one-hour “Fear Factor” is worth more than $10 million in paid advertising. [WSJ.com] (subscription required)

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