New medium getting its message across

Convergence has not only caught up to cable but, in a very real way, overtaken the medium that gave birth to Robert Pittman’s MTV.

That particular network was chosen because Pittman has since moved over to America Online, where, as president and COO, he has helped steer AOL past MTV — not to mention CNBC, VH1 and any number of other cable channels — in terms of primetime delivery.

This observation, based on users of either medium at peak time (9 p.m.), comes courtesy of global Gotham ad agency McCann-Erickson, which goes on to predict AOL’s eventual emergence as “the No. 1 cable network.”

AOL’s specific audience trajectory begins with 220,000 “simultaneous users” for the ’96-’97 season, which rises to 550,000 users for the ’97-’98 season, then passes the 600,000 mark in February 1998. Even if the growth rate slackens somewhat, McCann reckons AOL’s metaphorical toppling of cable’s lead network — whether it be USA, TNT or Nickelodeon — is but a couple of years away.

“The whole idea was to put (Internet use) into perspective,” explains Susan Nathan, the McCann senior VP of media research who came up with the idea of looking at AOL as a cable channel. “What this shows, in a powerful way, is that the Internet’s going to be a major medium, that it’s really going to happen.”

Nathan acknowledges that, as compelling as the comparison is, it isn’t perfect. She speaks of “co-usage,” for example, wherein a cable viewer simultaneously participates in an AOL chatroom. Then, too, there’s real convergence, a la WebTV, which, in terms of audience measurement, Nathan says, “will open a whole can of worms.”

But the good news is that, so far, there are no reruns on the Internet.

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