Net flexing portal power

Fox on Tuesday launched the broadest initiative yet by a TV network to promote its fall lineup on the Web, utilizing the resources of every major portal and numerous smaller players.

First three episodes of “Prison Break,” and new skein “Vanished,” which premiered Monday, are being made available on more than 50 Web sites, including portals AOL, Google Video, Yahoo, MSN, and News Corp’s IGN.com, along with a host of smaller sites that haven’t hosted TV episodes before, such as Maxim.com and USAToday.com.

Some of the sites started hosting the episodes on Tuesday and the rest are expected to launch soon.

All the major nets save ABC have previously streamed invididual episodes of shows on various Web sites for promotional purposes and have already started to or indicated they will do the same this year.

However, none have ever put their shows on so many different sites at once.

Fox is expected to use the same broad approach for some of its other new and returning series this fall with an emphasis on serials like “Prison Break” and “Vanished” that depend on viewers getting hooked early on complex, evolving storylines.

“To launch our two big thrillers — ‘Prison Break’ and ‘Vanished’ — both with continuing storylines, it is critical to get viewers invested out of the gate,” said Chris Carlisle, Fox EVP of marketing. “Our strategy supplies as many opportunities as possible for viewers to sample the first few episodes across the Internet.”

Each episode will be available the morning after its initial broadcast and stay up for a week, until the next one goes online.

It’s a deal that reflects some of the new thinking among network affiliates that are increasingly willing to allow the networks leeway to stream skeins online, in hopes of building a bigger audience on television.

Fox recently started to give its local stations the opportunity to stream back-episodes of 20th Television-produced skeins including “Prison Break,” “Bones,” “Stacked” and “American Dad” on their own Web sites.

That initiative, sponsored by Toyota, represents more of a video-on-demand offering than a promotion for new shows and included only episodes from returning or canceled skeins.

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