Online TV takes a hit

Networks pulling the plug on broadband channels

Just two years ago, TV networks were making their first big moves into online content by launching separately branded broadband networks.

MTV had Overdrive, Comedy Central had Motherload, CBS had Innertube, and CNN had Pipeline, to name a few.

“Overdrive is a powerful new platform that allows users to have more control over the way they experience MTV,” MTV topper Van Toffler said in 2005 when the net launched its broadband network full of deleted and extra scenes and original online programming.

Flash forward to 2007: Just as online video is hitting the mainstream, Overdrive, Motherload, Innertube and Pipeline are all gone or on their way out.

It’s not that the networks are putting less content online. But now they’re embedding video on their own sites, or spreading it far and wide across the Web.

How did things change so quickly?

Network execs were right to bet that more and more viewers, particularly young people, would be getting their news and entertainment online. But they were wrong to gamble that auds would want to open a separate broadband network off a website to get that video.

Companies are now realizing they can bring content to venues where consumers are already parked, instead of knocking themselves out trying to bring them to sites they barely know. While names like Innertube generated much fanfare in the business, they just didn’t mean that much to consumers.

“It was kind of like having the best garbage-powered car in the world,” says one media exec of the broadband players. “It could be very innovative, but that doesn’t really matter if nobody wants it.”

The dissolution of these broadband sites in many ways represents the changing goals of online: Just a few years ago, the trend was toward landing eyeballs — a fad that dovetailed perfectly with congloms gathering consumers on their own sites. But now the move is toward monetization: As long as companies can snag a hefty share of ad revenue for their video content, they don’t really care if AOL and Yahoo are the ones delivering it.

CBS recently struck a set of deals with more than a dozen partners for its so-called audience network.

“The formation of the CBS Audience Network has allowed us to turn Innertube into Outertube,” says CBS Interactive prexy Quincy Smith. “You need to go to where the audience is.”

There is one exception to the trend — the News Corp.-NBC venture NewCo. While the congloms will distribute their content via a series of outside partners, new CEO Jason Kilar recently said the venture would create a site that would offer “the best customer experience around.”

It remains to be seen whether the idea of gathering viewers on a new branded site will finally go into, well, overdrive — or be forced to downshift.

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