Original Programming Online

  • by July 29, 2005
Forget about TV this fall. Okay, we'll grant you an exception for "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost," both on ABC. But online industry players are really hoping that millions of eyeballs and attention spans gravitate from the TV to the Web as it becomes more and more a destination for original and licensed episodic programming.

Unscripted reality TV shows like NBC's "The Apprentice," CBS's "Survivor" and "Rock Star: INXS," and Fox's "American Idol" have helped spur the drive from TV to the Web, as marketers see myriad opportunities for consumer engagement with such properties. Deeper involvement with shows that have significant Web components can lead to all manner of e-commerce opportunities, including purchases of apparel, music, and concert tickets. Purveyors of online content have developed a host of sticky items to keep consumers grazing on their properties for longer periods of time, including interactive polls, quizzes, blogs, music videos, video clips, and on-demand video.

For example, take America Online's partnership this summer with the Live 8 concerts. The global mega-concert event was broadcast on TV and radio, but it also had a home online where AOL streamed the concerts in real-time and then offered the performances on an on-demand basis. AOL will offer the concert performances and a whole host of related content on-demand through Sept. 5.

"Live 8 is not an example of original programming, yet it's being regarded as our biggest programming event," says Jim Bankoff, executive vice president, programming and products, AOL. Bankoff notes that AOL doesn't believe that content has to be exclusive to it and to the online medium, "and it doesn't necessarily have to be original," but "what it does have to be is a really great online experience and better [than], or at least different [from], any other place."

So will the Web ever become "must-see TV"? It's too soon to tell. Of course by the time we know, it won't be clear whether video means video on TV, or the Internet, or some combination of the two like IP/TV (Internet Protocol, according to digital video gurus). Until then, there's a whole new crop of programming and original content coming to the Web. What follows is content now running or in development for fall. Yahoo! declined to comment on forthcoming offerings or its original programming strategy.


"The Biz": Who wants to be a music mogul? AOL Music and Warner Music Group team up to produce the first-ever online reality series where contestants vie to become president of a fledgling WMG record label. The program expects to highlight the industry behind the music and the people who discover, nurture, and create superstar artists. AOL debuts the show this fall and is currently casting for 18- to 35-year-old candidates, who have until August 12 to enter at:

"Princess Natasha": On KOL, AOL's kids' channel, this animated character is a super-sleuth who goes on a variety of adventures within 10- to 15-minute original Webisodes. The character is so popular that AOL has signed licensing deals with the Cartoon Network and Little, Brown & Company Books for Young Readers to extend the original "Princess Natasha" series beyond the Web. The 20 original Web cartoons will debut on TV later this year, a rare case of an online property transition to TV. Little, Brown's book series debuts in May 2006.

"Chubby Butter": A multi-episode series of quirky, offbeat animated shorts designed for a teen and college audience. There are six different series to choose from, with names like "Huxtable & Boner" and "Gene The Boy Genie."

AOL Music's Top 11 Video Countdown: A VJ host narrates the action in a window next to the video, there are "shout-outs" for viewers to send messages about the videos, voting for the best, and a vehicle for e-mailing the video link to friends.

"Inside the Game": Directed to video game fanatics, this program offers news, tips, reviews, features and games.

AOL Red: Targeting teens, this month Red offers a video-based back-to-school fashion show also running on The show is similar to a prom night feature that debuted in the spring with online polls, fashion tips, and makeovers.

AOL Moviefone: The online Moviefone Short Film Festival and competition offers 15 short films for on-demand viewing at the Moviefone Web site, 13 of which are making their online debut. Movie fans can view and rate the films, which include new releases and film festival favorites that haven't been seen by mass audiences. Moviefone has also opened a call for short film submissions and, with a panel of prestigious judges, will name a "Best of the Festival" winner in October. Content related to short films will also appear on AOLCityGuide and AOL Music. AOL attracted Ford 's Mercury Milan as a sponsor. The 2006 Moviefone Short Film Festival begins November 1.

Atom Shockwave

"Reactor": Featured on the AtomFilms site, "Reactor" showcases films and animations about topical hot-button issues in the celebrity and political arena. Threaded message boards and AtomFilms' own "Reactor" blog are part of the programming.

"Joe Cartoon": An episodic cartoon series featured animated shorts with titles like "Teenage Gerbil Bikers from Hell" and "Bubble Stinky Boy."

"Happy Tree Friends": Billed as "cartoons for the truly twisted," these episodic cartoons feature the antics of some cute forest creatures doing naughty things.


TurboNick: The Viacom-owned brand debuted a powerful new site called TurboNick that offers nearly 20 hours of broadband programming each week. TurboNick airs full-length cartoon series like "SpongeBob SquarePants" that are already available on Nick's cable channel, but is also set to run "Catscratch," an animated series that will migrate from the Web to cable.

TurboNick will offer six channels of programming, including a teen-oriented channel called TEENick. Topps, Kellogg's, and Honda are among the advertisers that signed on early; viewers won't be able to skip the commercials, which will appear every five minutes. It remains to be seen how Nick will integrate Neopets, which Viacom purchased for $160 million.

Nick Jr. Parents: Nick's parents' channel specializes in how-to instructional videos such as craft projects parents can do with their children. Nick Jr. Video also debuts this month as a video channel geared toward pre-school kids.

VH1: The venerable cable music channel launched a Web site called VSpot, which carried last month's season premiere of the reality show "The Surreal Life" three days prior to the episode's TV debut.


"Rock Star: INXS": Rock 'n' roll meets reality TV. This episodic series has the Aussie band INXS auditioning unknowns to fill the shoes of its deceased lead singer via a weekly performance competition and contestant elimination. Viewers weigh in and cast votes à la "American Idol." The last singer standing wins the coveted slot and goes on a global tour with the band.

While Microsoft Corp.'s online network boasts a diverse array of programming areas and tons of video content to accompany them, none is more high-profile right now than its ambitious partnership with the czar of reality TV, Mark Burnett, for "Rock Star: INXS."

The show offers a highly integrated TV to Web, Web to TV interactive programming experience designed to leverage several key properties and applications on the network, including MSN Messenger, Spaces, Music, and Shopping. The 13-week series, which began airing three nights a week on CBS on July 11, represents MSN's most high-stakes venture yet into the world of branded entertainment and reality-based interactive programming.

"We believe that each part of MSN is better when put together with the other parts," says Joe Michaels, senior business development manager, MSN. "Rock Star: INXS is a great way to show that off. We want to make it a very seamless and clean experience for users to travel throughout the various MSN properties that are involved in the show." Michaels helped broker the deal between Burnett and MSN; discussions began a year ago.

For example, viewers can vote, watch video clips of a specific performance, visit message boards, blog on MSN Spaces, purchase a single from each performer on MSN Music, and share content from the show via MSN Messenger. Notably, "Rock Star" marks the first time consumers can purchase singles online directly after a TV performance. Apparel and other items related to the series will also be available for purchase via MSN Shopping.

Meanwhile, MSN continues to flog its video content and video-on-demand capabilities. "We have a ton of video content on MSN Video that's just [available] on the Web," says Todd Herman, director of advertising business strategy for MSN Video, TV and Movies. He cites "The Week in Video" and Fox Sports-related videos as critical successes.

With regard to "Rock Star," Herman says, "we looked at our audience for MSN Video, and our audience loves rock music and interactive media. I will say this is the best example of TV and Web integration yet." That could be, but if early ratings are any indication (the show was only in its first week as OMMA went to press), MSN could be in for a rough ride.

"Considering 'Rock Star: INXS' has been losing audience in each episode, airing three times per week is a gamble that will not pay off for CBS," says Marc Berman, senior television editor, Mediaweek. "Unlike the similar 'American Idol,' which appeals to a wide audience, the rock star element of this reality series is limiting," Berman says, adding, "If ratings continue to drop, and I think they will, driving viewers online will become increasingly more difficult."

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