Creative sites usher in skeins

Fox converges Web and TV with 'Freakylinks'

While a lot of TV show Web sites are sticking to traditional formats with the usual star bios, rehashed plot-lines and static photo pages, there are several that stand out, giving users a fresh, lively and interactive online experience.

In a lot of ways, show sites are considered promotional tools, but the trend seems to be toward community building through interactive content such as real-time games, chats and interaction with characters who interact with fans via e-mail.

Probably one of the most interesting concepts in show ‘Net sites is Fox’s online component for “Freaky Links” (www.freakylinks.com). The show was developed for Fox by David Goyer and Gregg Hale, who hail from Haxan Films (“The Blair Witch Project”). Hale is the creative force behind the Web site.

The show, about Derek Barnes, a man in his 20s who runs a Web site that exposes paranormal and occult phe-nomena, is directed at a teen audience. The Freaky Links site is supposed to be the one produced by the show’s characters. Not the typical show site, it breaks down the fourth wall by being both a show prop and a way for fans to get involved in with the skein.

Freaky Links is indicative of Fox’s current Web strategy, which is “very much contingent upon what each property needs or wants. For Freaky Links it’s about extending mythology and fiction of that show in a highly convergent manner,” says James Luria, veep of development for Fox.com.

Up since January, the site already has built up a following via interactive events, like when writer Brian Kane, the online voice of Derek, e-mails answers to fan questions. Kane already gets about 200 e-mails daily, and the show doesn’t bow until October.

At UPN, the final season of “Star Trek Voyager” is being celebrated with a site that has set out to engage rabid fans — and keep possible wanderers interested in the final season.

“For a trekkie, an event of this kind doesn’t come around that often,” says Adam Ware, chief operating officer at UPN. “The interactive experience allows you to play games, and elements on site make the experience for a ‘Star Trek’ fan a truly added value and enhancement.”

Voyager passengers

On the Star Trek site, users have interactive gaming opportunities and a trivia contest in which the grand prize is a walk-on role on the show. The site itself is a collaboration with Paramount and runs through StarTrek.com, which will house the site once the show goes off the air.

Another interesting use of cyberspace at UPN exists for “The Hughleys.” With AntEye.com, the weblet is pro-ducing Flash-animated interstitials, called “DL’s Daily Dose,” in the manner of those seen at content sites such as MediaTrip.

“It’s meant to drive awareness up for D.L. Hughley (the show’s star) by word of mouth. It’s a jpg file that you can e-mail to friends,” says Ware.

The animations are now on AntEye.com, and will go to UrbanEntertainment.com, TheSource.com, HipHop.com and Romp.com and won’t be used on the UPN site until after the season premiere airs.

One of the most forward-thinking site communities exists at cabler Showtime’s Sho.com, where the spinoff site for “Star Gate SG-1” (www.stargatesg-1.com) includes virtual gaming that parallels the show. About 50,000 people participate in the games on this site each month, the company says. The site has also linked up with the TV show to give users a live interactive experience through a moveable camera on the et.

“TV is a passive medium and PC is an active medium and we’re finding ways for people to get engaged,” says Mark Greenberg, exec veep of corporate strategy and communications, who describes the show sites as small communities.

Showtime’s Web experiments include boxing programming with interactive scoring to a deal with Icebox.com that will bring online entity “Starship Regulars” to television next year.

“Much of it in this medium is experimental. We’re all trying to figure out what’s innovative,” says Greenberg. “When ‘I Love Lucy’ did a two-camera shoot, Webcasting at most sites is at that point.”

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