Vintage TV series wired for Web

WB to plug in TV outlet via AOL

Net TV is finally here.

After years of talk and one-off efforts in the space, Warner Bros. and Time Warner sibling America Online have pacted to create the first-ever television outlet online.

Set to launch in January, In2TV will make up to 14,000 episodes from more than 300 WB TV series available on-demand for free with advertising.

WB series ranging from the 1970s-era “Chico and the Man” to recent skein “The Fugitive” will be available online with four new 15 second advertisements per half-hour inserted by AOL.

Netco is paying WB a license fee for the series and splitting ad revenue.

If it proves popular, In2TV promises to create a revenue stream for library titles that have largely exhausted their potential in syndication and on DVD.

“When it started 20 years ago, cable only aired ‘classics,’ but now you see original programming and high-profile repeats,” said Eric Frankel, prexy of Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution. “We hope this is the beginning of the same evolution in broadband.”

On the Net unlike on cable, an infinite number of shows can potentially be made available. Thus, even if they appeal to a small audience, skeins can live on, and earn money, forever online.

In2TV could also prove a major boost for AOL as it moves all of its content off a closed universe for subscribers and onto the open Web. Netco has largely staked that shift on its broadband video offerings, and with the launch of the service, AOL leaps ahead of its major competitor, Yahoo!, in offering exclusive video.

That could help it draw a bigger audience and more advertising revenue.

“We want to create a new broadband network for content looking for its next window of distribution,” explained Kevin Conroy, exec VP of AOL Media Networks. “This is an IP (Internet protocol) television service that is available whenever, wherever in the digital home.”

Though most users will likely watch In2TV on computers initially, growing adoption of devices that let consumers get Internet content on their TVs could make the service, and others like it, a fixture in the living room as well.

If other broadband TV deals follow, they could ultimately prove a challenge to cable repeats, particularly for nets that specialize in them like Nick at Nite.

Just last week, CBS and NBC Universal made deals with Comcast and DirecTV, respectively, for the first video-on-demand offerings of new broadcast shows. ABC also recently made recent episodes of “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” available for download through Apple’s iTunes musicstore.

In2TV has significantly more content and, unlike those VOD deals, makes it available for free. However, AOL-WB venture’s shows are significantly older and likely to have a more limited appeal than new episodes of “Survivor” or “Law and Order: SVU.”

Other TV studios will be able to add their content to In2TV, though some may be wary of signing up for a distribution outlet partly owned by Warner Bros. Under the non-exclusive deal, AOL is also able to create separate broadband networks for other content providers and WB can offer its shows to other Netcos.

The two sister companies started talks last year, but it took them more than a year to create the service and for WB to clear all rights. Frankel said the main challenge was to ensure they could play all music in the shows for use on the Net.

Actors, writers and other talent will receive residuals just as they would for other late-run syndication of skeins.

While exact financial details of the license fee and revenue split weren’t available, execs admitted that the first deal is something of an experiment.

“On cable, we have enough experience to price any deal that comes along,” Frankel observed. “This is real time learning in the market, though we’re happy to do it.”

Series will cycle on and off of In2TV on a regular basis so only a small portion of the content is available at once. To prevent impacting sales of seasonlong DVDs, WB will offer only 10 episodes of any series at a time.

Shows will be offered as part of six “channels” — essentially categories to organize content — at launch, including comedy, sci-fi and cartoons. Two more are expected to follow next year.

In the first year, 4,800 episodes from more than 100 series will cycle through In2TV. But WB has already cleared 14,000 episodes from more than 300 shows to ultimately air.

Besides creating the first large-scale on-demand TV offering on the Net, In2TV will also launch with a broad array of interactive options. AOL is creating a variety of games and quizzes to go along with the shows — for instance, viewers can bet on who will win an episode of “People’s Court” and earn prizes from a sponsor.

In2TV will also create clip compilations from WB skeins. Examples include stars before they were famous and laugh-out-loud moments.

Series available in the first year of In2TV will include “Growing Pains,” “Pinky and the Brain,” “Lois and Clark,” “Falcon Crest” and “Babylon 5.”

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