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NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Coca-Cola, Ford and AT&T are back again as the three main sponsors of "American Idol," which returned to the airwaves on Tuesday.
They have forked 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" 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 be seeking to incorporate its Ford Escape Hybrid into the program this season. While the final details of Ford's integration have not yet been decided, Ford will give away Hybrids to the two top finalists instead of the Ford Mustangs it has awarded in years past. It will also feature the Hybrid in some of its music videos.
Coca-Cola will be back with its branded cups on the judges' table, the Coca-Cola red room where the "Idol" contestants are interviewed by host Ryan Seacrest and hang out backstage, and Coke graphics on the LCD flat screen that sits behind contestants on stage as they are being interviewed by Seacrest.
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" downlodads, ringtones and even video of bad auditions and performances last year, is expected to be back with very similar on-air and off-air elements to its campaign. AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said the company was not ready to announce the details of its 2008 "Idol" integration and sponsorship, which don't really get off the ground until later in the season when the voting begins.