May 7, 1997 6:30 PM PDT

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Frosty, Rudolph: Better watch out. Ernie the Elf is coming to town, and he's got media giants ABC and America Online (AOL) to back him up.

Usually, Web pages are built to support television shows and movies, but in a rare role reversal, ABC is developing a Christmas show based on an AOL page--"Santa's Home Page"--that features the original Ernie the Elf character developed online by the company's Greenhouse division. And Penguin Books will be licensing the title to publish a children's book in the fall.

Greenhouse Networks has a stated goal of building strong brands and leveraging them across different platforms. Therefore the deal, engineered in part by TV-executive-turned-Greenhouse-chairman Brandon Tartikoff, represents a clear victory.

ABC will be using the characters and content--created for the site last Christmas by Greenhouse--to develop a show by claymation animator Will Vinton of "California Raisins" fame, Greenhouse spokeswoman Anne Bentley said.

The goal is no less ambitious than creating the next Rudolf or Frosty, replete with all the force that cobranding can bring: The vision is of children reading their Ernie the Elf books in front of the television set running an Ernie the Elf video and then rushing to the computer to check out the character on the Web. All this at Christmas, a time when Americans are most willing to pay big for items their children crave.

Revenue potential is the point, Bentley said. "It's a fabulous cross-promotional opportunity and advertising opportunity."

Greenhouse hopes that it's the first of many. "We'd like to do more online properties that will extend to books and television," Bentley said.

 

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