Bud.TV doesn't appear to be doing too well. Anheuser-Busch has invested somewhere between $30 million and $40 million in the fledgling network so far, but only achieved 240,000 visits in the first month and 150,000 in the second, according to comScore Media Matrix. By my calculation, that's in the region of $100 per visit (or a CPM of $100,000) - expensive by any standard.
The dismal early results are a real shame - it was nice to see a brand commit to engaging with consumers in a new way. The results are also a shame because they're likely to make traditional brands think twice before trying to buck convention.
Why is the initiative failing? Unfortunately, I think it's because the company spent too much time thinking about the medium and too little thinking about the consumer.
On the surface, it sounded like a good idea. Budweiser's TV commercials are invariably the most liked at the Super Bowl every year. And they seem to be specially enjoyed by 20-something guys who, presumably, are the bull's eye for any kind of online marketing.
So this effort should have been a cakewalk, shouldn't it? Wasn't it simply a case of extending the Super Bowl TV advertising success into the online space? Apparently not.
The reason they're giving for the slow takeoff is that a slightly more rigorous than usual age verification system is in place. Kudos to Anheuser-Busch for actively trying to avoid marketing to kids. High marks also to the technology, which seems to work really well (you have to enter details as they appear on a state issued id, which the database then cross-references to see that you are who you say you are).
I tried the system and also tried to trick it, and can say that the system works. You have to register for the site - but it's free, very quick and they don't ask for any personal data other than your name, zip code and age. It does quite effectively prevent anyone under 21 from viewing the site though. And whereas that probably does make it harder to attract an audience of active online clip watchers, many of whom will be under 21, there's certainly still a large universe of people over 21 to draw from.
I don't think the registration requirements are discouraging visitors. Instead, the problem stems from the site's content, which simply isn't edgy enough to convince people to pass it along to their friends.
It feels like TV. It's quite funny and well done - but no different really to what I'd expect to see on Spike or MTV and not particularly provocative or particularly edgy. It felt very professional, which is paradoxical given that it's decidedly unprofessional consumer-generated content that's drawing viewers online right now.
I'm likely not the only one who feels the site is lackluster. If the 240,000 people who visited that first month had said, "That's awesome," and rushed out to tell their friends, viewership would have increased instead of declining during that second month.
What people want when they view films online is something thrilling - something unexpected, refreshing and unfamiliar. What they want is the kind of entertainment that's created without a rule book or a watchdog. Bud.TV, on the other hand, exudes the presence of a regulatory environment, which results in entertainment for people over 21 that feels entirely suitable for people under 21. And that's not going to get people talking.
People have vast numbers of entertainment options open to them. And to encourage them to choose your brand of entertainment over another is tough. In the absence of a viral effect, Bud.TV would have to do what other TV networks do: spend a lot of money on advertising to draw an audience to its shows. But for Bud, advertising an advertising vehicle sounds like a step removed from what they really want to be spending money on - selling beer.
Without advertising, Bud has only one option. It needs to create an experience that's a little more thrilling. And the only way to do that will be to think a little more about the people they are trying to engage and be a little more adventurous in the way they approach them.
Paul Parton is the brand-planning partner at The Brooklyn Brothers, a creative collective. (firstname.lastname@example.org)