HBO Digs Teeth Into 'True Blood' Fans

HBO TrueBlood wiki screenshotHBO will release several widgets today that should hook fans deeper into "True Blood," a television series from the Southern Vampire Mysteries supernatural/mystery books by Charlaine Harris that has attracted numerous loyal fans.

The widgets were developed by Wetpaint, a Seattle-based wiki that supports 1.2 million sites. About 100 are branded by Fox, Showtime, Discovery, T-Mobile and others. Dubbed "Droplet" to signify a drop of paint--or in this instance, a drop of blood--the widgets offer "True Blood" fans three ways to take content from the HBO series to post on social networks, from MySpace and Facebook to iGoogle and more.

Research firm eMarketer estimates that U.S. companies will spend a mere $40 million in 2008 to create, promote and distribute widgets-- up from $15 million in 2007. And while widgets have garnered far more attention than actual ad dollars, it hasn't stopped HBO from providing the option to fans.

In fact, HBO has been the most aggressive brand when it comes to engaging with the audience or allowing fans to take content and post it on other sites, according to Wetpaint CEO Ben Elowitz. HBO has also created "True Blood" promotional videos. The comments splattered throughout the video come from fans who posted on the Wetpaint "True Blood" forum, where the thread count stood at more than 900 as of Wednesday afternoon.

Picture This, Wiretap and Site Satellite are three widgets created to entertain fans. While Picture This lets fans create widgets filled with still photos and videos, Wiretap is the tool that fans use when taking along the discussion forum to other sites, and Site Satellite pulls together all the happenings on the wiki. Consumers can paint the widgets in Lightbox, Blackground or Sauna Chic.

About 80% of traffic comes to Wetpaint's branded sites from search engines--many of which create their own content. "By getting users to add content, you end up with so much more in the search engines that we literally see--especially in the case of "True Blood," each week about 300% more page views than the week before," Elowitz said.

Visitors to the "True Blood" wiki site stay 61% longer than on HBO's traditional site. Each fan contributes about six posts to the forum. The average time that visitors remain is 10 minutes on the Wetpaint wiki, compared with six minutes on HBO's main site.

Wetpaint is not the only company launching new widget features. San Francisco-based Sprout, a Flash platform that offers an interface that brands can use to build interactive widgets, introduced a new feature Monday called Sprout Mixer. It lets people incorporate brands and personal content. The platform integrates with Google Analytics to provide information such as the total number of visitors, and how many create and publish widgets. Brands also see the location of users and other demographic data including where the widgets post.

Motorola on Tuesday said it would unveil the Moto VE66 phone with widget integration, allowing users to access stock tickers, RSS feeds from blogs or sports scores, among other applications. The handset will feature LED flash, auto stabilization functions, and a 5-megapixel camera with integrated autofocus.

Along with the phone, Motorola launched a campaign to attract developers. The Motodev Widget Developer Challenge calls on developers worldwide to deliver the Web to mobile users without limits.

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