Barbie is a leading lady as advertisers turn into media companies

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Barbie could be coming to a TV or cinema near you soon. Toymaker Mattel has revealed plans for a drama based on the oddly-shaped doll.

The manufacturer is trying to line up partners to help produce the show, possibly followed by a movie, according to senior vice-president Richard Dickson.

"We are evolving ourselves into our own media company," said Mr Dickson, speaking at the annual MIPTV conference, where producers, broadcasters and internet companies buy and sell programming. "Theatrical releases are certainly part of our strategic agenda."

Like many brands, Mattel has been raising its profile through websites such as the Barbie Girl "virtual world", which has attracted 10 million users since its launch in October.

The move into scripted drama highlights a trend by organisations to fund programming on TV and the internet, evoking old-fashioned soap operas "brought to you by ..." Pet food maker Pedigree, for instance, sponsors ITV's Sunday evening documentary Dog Rescue. ITV's Beat Life on the Street series about police officers receives funding from the Home Office.

The trend is pitting traditional broadcasters against production companies, challenging the long-standing business model in which broadcasters fund programme makers. Production companies complain that the BBC and ITV are squeezing them for more output with less money, so are turning straight to advertisers to try to gain an upper hand in negotiations.

In a keynote speech, Elisabeth Murdoch, chief executive of production company Shine, said: "Our traditional broadcasting market is facing a recession. We need to experiment with a new funding model."

Revenue from advertising helps such companies show their output on the internet. Shine last week announced a partnership with MySpace, the social networking site owned by Elisabeth's father, Rupert. MySpace does not offer producers a budget, but shares income from advertising with its content providers.

Traditional TV is now rapidly moving onto the net to capitalise on ad trends. Last month, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and NBC Universal launched an online video venture called Hulu.