As distribution outlets undergo rapid change, nets create waves with iPods, VOD
The television revolution is here, but it’s not taking place on your standard TV set.Known for pushing the boundaries of content — look no further than MTV2’s off-the-wall “Wonder Showzen” for proof — cable networks are now leading the charge into the world of new-media platforms. They’re competing head, on with the major webs by airing their original goods on iPods and mobile phones, the VOD space and online. Even premium networks such as Showtime, which already charges for service, are betting on growth from new revenue streams. Showtime has struck deals with emerging platforms like iTunes and has already made available seasons of “Weeds” and “Sleeper Cell.” Meanwhile, A&E and large cable networks are making a play for ahead-of-the-curve material. Company bought content from ElevatorMoods.com to help ease itself into more unconventional venues, including wireless. Execs also will likely use the 13 elevator-set vignettes on air as a branding weapon. With cable’s exponentially growing number of originals, nets have found a viable way to get their brands and shows out there, and thus compete with the major webs — one platform at a time. Or, in the case of Nickelodeon, 15 platforms at a time. The kids network trumpets content on more than a dozen new-media applications, and has even established an animation lab, Inkubators, specifically aimed at creating content for emerging platforms such as videogames. Channel also is blazing a trail when it comes to how it grows its original programming. New shows “Mr. Meaty” and “Barnyard” came from a series of online shorts and a feature skein, respectively. Also under the MTV Networks umbrella, the Music Group (channels MTV, VH1, CMT and Logo) are outperforming the competish with a fleet of broadband channels. Most recently, VH1 made network history with “Flavor of Love,” the umpteenth “Bachelor” spinoff, this one starring former Public Enemy Flavor Flav as the most eligible. Series finale drew 6 million viewers — more than any episode of “Laguna Beach,” “Newlyweds” or “The Osbournes” — and exec VP of programming Michael Hirschorn credits the good fortune to being savvy about the online game. While NBC is quick to go after clip-driven Web sites, most recently ordering the removal of Natalie Portman’s “Saturday Night Live” rap, “VH1’s strategy is the exact opposite of that,” he says. In the name of promotion, “you have to be able to lose control of the media,” Hirschorn adds. VSpot, like its MTVN brethren, is a robust offering of video — both exclusive and from on-air. For “Flavor,” he let loose several humorous clips from the show on the Web to drive viewership to upcoming episodes. Even cablers with broader appeal are attempting to use their original shows to carve out niches in the new-media space. USA, which added the tagline “Characters Welcome” less than a year ago, is taking on MySpace with ShowUsYourCharacter.com, an online social networking hub it hopes viewers will use to build communities around favorite shows such as “Monk” and “The 4400.” “One of the issues we’ve had with USA is that we’re highly rated but not getting credit for the shows,” says marketing/programming strategy senior VP Chris McCumber. “In talking to our viewers, we got the impression that they didn’t know what USA was about or what we stood for.” After an online “Monk Mind Game” became a word-of-mouth hit, the decision was made to do more in the Web space. After all, “you never know what could happen. We could find the next great show idea,” McCumber says. Sister cabler Sci Fi Channel, which runs on the fumes of its rabid fan base, also just announced plans for its own broadband channel, which will continue to grow its already robust exclusive content offering. Official site already hosts podcasts, show creator blogs and exclusive material from shows such as “Battlestar Galactica.” Elsewhere online, NBC Universal’s Bravo unveiled several broadband services under the BravoTV.com banner, including the former linear play/critical darling Trio, to show off its Web smarts. FX tips its hat to MySpace.com — owned by corporate parent News Corp. — for helping to drum up interest in the season finale of “Nip/Tuck.” Plastic surgery drama’s staff writers created a profile for the series’ serial-killing villain, the Carver, and more than 114,000 users became “friends” with the madman. But Comedy Central has arguably made the most headway with its broadband service MotherLoad, which operates just like a television, with a channel guide and streaming video while users make selections. To be sure, it’s got the biggest offering of exclusive and original content yet with five original Webisodes up and running, including “Jump Cuts,” “Meet the Creeps” and “Odd Todd.” Comedy is something HBO is counting on to help pave its entry past its suite of multiplexes. Paybox cut a wireless deal pact with Cingular and, more importantly, has locked up comedian Dane Cook out of reach from other networks. He’ll essentially be the face of HBO as it explores original programming for new-digital media. (Cook will also have time on air with his own standup special and the documentary series “Tourgasm.”) “These platforms are all nascent businesses,” Albrecht says. HBO has been more hesitant when it comes to boarding the new-media bandwagon. “We’re interested in making HBO available to these services in the appropriate way,” the net chief says. And among college kids, the biggest users of new media applications, “certainly, Dane Cook is a rock star.” Other cablers have jumped head first into the pool as well. Starz premiered Vongo in January, a new video download application that allows for more than 1,000 films and other programming to be played on the Internet and various media devices. E! Networks deployed “E! Everywhere,” which quite literally attempts to put the cabler in front of all people on all platforms. Its Golden Globes and Oscar red carpet coverage was simulcast online, via broadband channel the Vine, on mobile phones and on-air. Red carpet coverage was sponsored by L’Oreal and American Express, “further proof that blue chip advertisers want to be a part of everything, not just the linear play,” net topper Ted Harbert says. E! even put together a show, which will serve as a companion to news flagship “E! News,” called “The Daily 10″ that’s all about combing unconventional sources for headlines that those early adopters care about. Harbert says it’s less important for him to have content exclusive to E!’s on-air channel. “It’s voluntary cannibalization,” he says, “especially for a network like ours. We want our information and entertainment to be available everywhere, from our international channels to mobile phones to podcasts.”
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