Initial b'casts tremendously profitable from ads, standpoint

With primetime shows cropping up online everywhere from iTunes to Google to MySpace, 2006 is going down as the year the networks went digital.

But just as it seems anything can be watched almost at any time, some of the networks’ biggest nights of TV — the awards shows — are remaining staunchly old media.

All three nets with major kudocasts this year are pushing for more digital play for events like the Oscars, Grammys and Golden Globes, but the awards-show industry has been remarkably impervious to the digital wave that has swept Hollywood.

The reason: While the kudocasts fight audience erosion each year, their initial broadcasts remain tremendously profitable from an advertising standpoint, and no one wants to kill the goose that lays that golden egg.

Like sports events, these shows have almost no shelf life after the awards are given out, so there is little incentive to make them available online.

Moreover, the organizations behind the awards — the motion picture and recording academies and the like — are particularly tradition-bound.

Most awards shows — except the populist People’s Choice Awards — still conduct voting with paper ballots, and anything that disrupts tradition is viewed with suspicion.

“Our attitude about the telecast in general is: By limiting the amount of reuse of Oscar footage, we keep the show special,” says Academy exec administrator Ric Robertson, acknowledging, “There are a lot of Web sites out there with varying degrees of content; most help support the ultimate goal, which is to have a substantial audience for the telecast.”

ABC, the network of the Oscars, and Disney, ABC’s parent, shook up the entertainment industry and risked their relationship with their broadcast affiliates and retailers like Wal-Mart by inking deals with iTunes for TV shows and movies.

But when it comes to its relationship with the Academy, ABC’s treading lightly. “We hope to build on our ongoing relationship with the Academy to make Oscars.com an even more interactive entertainment destination for movie lovers with more video and richer content,” says Alexis Rapo, veep of ABC digital media in a prepared statement with all the politics of an acceptance speech.

That’s not to say that the kudocasts and their partner networks don’t spend plenty of time tinkering with their own Web sites with an eye toward supporting the preshow hype. NBC even encourages viewers to play Golden Globes-related games during the telecast of the awards, potentially pulling some viewers’ attention away from the tube.

But each year represents baby steps. NBC is urging the looser Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. to allow it to push the digital envelope for the 64th edition of the awards this year, but those talks are in the beginning stages.

CBS, which hosts the Grammys, People’s Choice and the Tony Awards, is similarly limited as to what it can offer online.

Not surprisingly, it is the awards shows with nano-auds which have taken to the Web with a bit more verve. The super-geeky Visual Effects Society, which is presenting its annual awards at the Kodak Grand Ballroom in February, has permitted online submissions and voting for the last two years.

But even VES won’t be streaming the ceremony online. HDNet has the rights to the telecast this year.

Kudocasts may indeed have a digital future, but for now that future is going to have to wait.

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