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Telemundo puts fate of TV character in hands of Sprint Nextel subscribers: Mobile users will be first to view and vote on three different paths ‘Sin Senos’ protagonist can take

Telenovela watchers who are also Sprint Nextel Corp. cellphone subscribers will get to decide this month what the star of Telemundo’s racy hit novela should do next as she struggles with drug gangs, sexual exploitation and breast implants.

NBC Universal-owned Telemundo is creating videos representing three different caminos, or paths, for Catalina, the ambitious protagonist of “Sin Senos No Hay Paraiso” (literally “Without Breasts There Is No Paradise”).

“We were looking at how to get the audience more engaged,” said Peter Blacker, Telemundo’s executive VP for digital media and emerging businesses. “What if we let them interact with the story line and had a [marketer] partner be that bridge? It’s perfect for a mobile device.”

Sprint Nextel subscribers will be the first to view the three- to five-minute videos on their phones next week and vote for the camino de Catalina that will start the next narrative arc for the tormented heroine. After four days of cellphone-only availability, the three videos will be posted on telemundo.com for online users to watch and vote on for a week. Voting will close in mid-December, and Telemundo’s writers and cast will have barely a week to quickly flesh out and shoot the TV episodes that follow the path selected by viewers.

Telemundo tested the concept last year by letting fans vote on three alternative final episodes of “Victoria,” an earlier novela. But those episodes were seen only online and didn’t affect the finale on TV.

This is a much more ambitious effort. Just to make the three mobile and online videos, former cast members were called back and sets rebuilt. Telemundo’s site also features a section for notes to Catalina – viewers have sent more than 1,800 so far with comments such as “You’re so beautiful, but your ambition will kill you” – and hosted forums on social issues raised on the show, such as plastic surgery and drug abuse. An online poll asks viewers how they thought Catalina’s brother Bayron, a drug-cartel hit man, should have been knocked off. One of the multiple-choice options is “He didn’t deserve to die,” raising the intriguing prospect that he’ll be resurrected.

“It’s truly groundbreaking – where have you seen the consumer as producer?” said Jacqueline Hernandez, Telemundo’s COO.

Hernandez said Telemundo brainstormed with Vidal Partnership, Sprint Nextel’s Hispanic ad agency, to come up with a novel idea that would also involve a phone and offer Sprint Nextel some exclusive content, while driving digital traffic back to what was happening on TV.

She and her team have gotten so involved that when she spotted an online user’s query about how to get the novela’s catchy theme-song music, Hernandez went to YouTube and found it herself.

Telemundo was cagey about details but broadly outlined the three divergent crossroads for the TV soap that mobile and online users will vote on: Catalina returns to her family; she plunges further into the world of drugs and prostitution; or she seizes an opportunity to redeem herself.

“From what we’ve seen online, despite all the crazy things Catalina does, there’s a real interest in helping her rewrite her life,” Blacker said. “When her brother died a few weeks ago, we got a tremendous number of e-mails saying, ‘How could you kill him? He was trying to clean up his act.’ On the digital platform, the show has taken on a life of its own.”

“Sin Senos” will air again next year, on Telemundo’s youth-oriented Mun2 cable channel, with English subtitles, although it would be difficult to offer the same option of voting on the novela’s story line.

Laurel Wentz is a reporter for Advertising Age, a sister publication to RCR Wireless News. Both publications are owned by Crain Communications Inc.

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