Network snags online talent show

The Eye unit behind “Entertainment Tonight” and “Oprah” is looking to expand its syndication muscle to the Internet.

CBS Television Distribution has taken a 50% ownership stake in “Big Shot,” the online talent search from Madison Road Entertainment and Maverick Television that aims to emerge as a “Star Search” of the YouTube era. Move reps one of the most ambitious attempts yet by a broadcaster to translate the TV syndication model to the Net.

As a result of the investment, the Eye will widely distribute the online skein via the websites of hundreds of local stations that broadcast the company’s “Entertainment Tonight.” It also will put the program on the about-to-launch CBS Audience Network, ensuring “Big Shot” carriage on sites such as AOL.

Just as importantly, CBS will focus the promotional power of “ET” behind “Big Shot.” A weekly on-air segment tied to the online competition is already in the works, while “Big Shot” also will have a permanent home on “ET’s” website.

Basic premise of “Big Shot” remains the same as first announced (Daily Variety, May 7). Wannabe singers, actors, models, comics and even sports stars will compete in daily online popularity contests for the chance to be flown to Hollywood and get their big break.

Idea is to create a new batch of Internet stars (think lonelygirl15), as well as provide marketing opportunities for entertainment brands that want to be associated with young talent. (CBS, for example, might want to hype “Jericho” by offering a walk-on role on the show as a prize).

Madison Road, which was already partnered with Maverick and James Bruce Prods., approached CTD a few months ago about simply distributing “Big Shot.”

“They’ve got the best station clearances with the best shows. We decided to aim high,” said Madison Road partner Jak Severson.

CTD prexy-chief operating officer John Nogawski was initially hesitant, however: “We’re not in the business of distributing another company’s Internet projects,” he said.

“But when we wrapped our hands around it, we figured it could be a much bigger, more robust experience if we became an owner of it and combined it with our deep distribution opportunities and our show (‘ET’),” Nogawski told Daily Variety. “The more people that can find out about this, the more likely it is that this can grow into a viral experience.”

Severson said inking with CTD will ensure “Big Shot” gets a crack at breaking through. “This deal gives us amazing reach across an enormous audience, both on television and online,” he said.

In order to maximize CTD’s impact, all parties involved agreed to push back the planned Sept. 10 launch of the show until Jan. 7. That will give CTD plenty of time to get “ET’s” affiliate body on board — though Nogawski thinks stations will leap at the chance to be involved in the project.

“They’ve been begging for something like this,” he said. “Most local websites are just news headlines, weather and traffic. These stations’ websites are the next virgin ground of syndication, and we want to be at the forefront” of providing stations with content.

In addition to the untold hours of audition content — via brief, user-generated audition clips — stations will be fed daily three- to five-minute webisodes chronicling each daily winner’s journey to Hollywood.

“Big Shot” has hired comics Todd Glass, Eddie Pepitone and Brian Huskey to serve as onscreen guides for the daily winners, helping them navigate the showbiz waters.

A Web application developed by FanRocket will allow stations to localize content, so that contestants get prominent play on their local station’s website. Contestants also will get help in harnessing the power of the Net to persuade people to vote for them.

Severson, Bruce and Maverick TV’s Michael Rosenberg will exec produce “Big Shot,” with Bruce (“The Restaurant”) serving as showrunner.

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