Fox Streams Dramas, Comedies To O&Os

Fox is streaming more than 40 episodes of prime-time shows on Web sites for nine owned-and-operated local stations. This is the first time that any network has offered full episodes on local Web sites.

The initiative, branded "Fox on Demand," is designed to drive more traffic to the recently rebranded and upgraded O&O sites. Plus, it serves as a promotional vehicle for network fare.

The ad-supported on-demand streams "Prison Break," "Bones," and three comedies: "Stacked," "The Loop," and "American Dad." Last spring, ABC streamed episodes of several hit dramas on ABC.com, but only allowed five stations--including one O&O--to promote them on their sites and link to them.

While ABC had a slew of advertisers sponsoring its streams, Fox has inked a deal giving Toyota exclusive sponsorship. The carmaker's ads for its Yaris brand appear mid-roll during the episodes--and viewers can't fast-forward through them. The technology does allow viewers to fast-forward through show content.

So far, the service offers 44 episodes of "Prison Break" and "Bones" and comedies from previous seasons. This fall, new episodes of the two hit dramas will be available the day after broadcast.

The nine "MyFox" sites carrying the streams include stations in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Dallas, Washington, Tampa Bay, Orlando, Birmingham and Greensboro.

However, the move has the potential to spark an outrage among Fox affiliates outside the News Corp. umbrella, since stations may feel that the streamed shows could siphon off viewers and hurt their ratings and revenues. To blunt such protests, Fox made a deal with affiliates earlier this year. They receive 12.5 percent of advertising and other revenues from digital distribution after shows air on the network and 25 percent if they appear before the broadcast premiere. In this case, since the shows are only available on News Corp. properties, Fox has avoided any revenue sharing.

Fox Digital Media President Peter Levinsohn said in a statement: "We look forward to extending the Fox on Demand offering to our entire affiliate body."

Fox is in the midst of a major initiative to upgrade the local sites for its 25 O&Os. The sites suffered from rudimentary designs, were light on content, and offered little--if any--video. The look also varied among the stations.

Now, Fox is unifying the sites under the "MyFox" banner, such as "MyFoxNew York" and "MyFoxLA," Soon, all 25 will have the same design template. Content upgrades include an emphasis on video--a major focus for all local station sites battling with local newspapers--along with what Fox calls "hyper-local" news content. Broader coverage from News Corp. siblings Fox News and UK-based BSkyB is also available. (In the corporate synergy vein, there is even promotion for the company's fledgling second broadcast network, MyNetworkTV.)

Word that Fox was planning to stream the prime-time shows to help transform local sites into greater revenue-generators came from Peter Chernin, News Corp.'s No. 2 executive, at a June investors conference.

So far, there are 12 "Prison Break" episodes available--eight of "Bones," seven of comedy "The Loop," 13 of "Stacked" (including five unaired) starring Pamela Anderson, and four of animated hit "American Dad."

"Prison Break" makes its season premiere tonight, with "Bones" debuting on Aug. 30. Comedy "American Dad" returns Sept. 10, while "The Loop" returns in January. "Stacked" is currently not scheduled to return, so its inclusion in "Fox on Demand" appears to be a way for Fox to gauge whether there may be some latent interest.

Toyota's sponsorship of "Fox on Demand" is the carmaker's latest marketing link with the network. In April, it signed on to promote the Yaris brand through pre-roll ads and product placement in a series of "Prison Break" shorts on mobile phones. An outgrowth of the deal has Toyota sponsoring a MySpace page plugging tonight's "Prison Break" premiere. MySpace is a News Corp. property.