TV unit unveils TheWB.com

Warner Bros. TV Group has revived the WB as an online platform.

Warner brass on Monday unveiled TheWB.com, a digital network intended to monetize old skeins and original content through ad support. Josh Schwartz, McG and “Laguna Beach” impresario Gary Auerbach have created skeins for the site, which will launch in beta next month and is expected to go fully live by August.

The group is also launching KidsWB.com, with classic Looney Tunes segs and its own original shortform toons, plus games.

Bruce Rosenblum, prexy of the TV group, cast the initiative as a complementary extension of the group’s smallscreen efforts.

“It is our belief we are in the multiplatform storytelling business — no longer simply in the television business,” Rosenblum said.

TheWB.com targets the 16-34 demo, a group that already actively consumes online programming intended for the smallscreen. “To them, that is television,” Rosenblum said.

Initiative requires significant expenditure; Rosenblum declined to project when it may be profitable, joking that the question is straight out of WB chair-CEO Barry Meyer’s mouth.

“We are taking this very seriously,” Rosenblum said. “This is an important part of where we see television going.”

Exec also brushed aside concerns that the site would eat into the CW network’s business. Several of the smallscreen skeins touted during Monday’s Gotham presentation, including “Smallville” and “One Tree Hill,” originally aired on the former WB.

“We would not expect it to cannibalize the CW in any way,” Rosenblum said, stressing the conglom’s commitment to the CW.

“The opportunity to bring the WB back as a digital destination just falls in line with our overarching strategy,” he added.

He predicted more of these digital platforms would pop up in the next six to 18 months and pointed out that TheWB.com content wouldn’t necessarily be exclusive. “It’s a competitive landscape,” he allowed. “That demographic is one that is highly sought after by advertisers.”

Nor, Rosenblum said, would the site affect licensing deals with Hulu. He said the company hoped to license third-party content for TheWB.com to build a more enticing environment for users.

He admitted the ultimate impact on the syndication market is not yet known, but predicted the site would not hurt homevideo sales or electronic sell-through efforts. Episodes of “Friends,” for example, will be available for the first time on the site; the show has already minted coin in syndication and on DVD.

“The digital landscape is giving us a lot of new opportunities to monetize content, and none of them are mutually exclusive,” Rosenblum said.

The site already has lined up a charter sponsor in Johnson & Johnson and has partnered with Facebook.

“We want to go where they are and make it as easy as possible for them,” said Craig Erwich, exec VP of Warner Horizon Television.

Users will be able to employ a video editing tool to further customize content and share it with others on the site.

The original content will be created under the Warner Bros. Studio 2.0 banner.

Among the skeins: “Sorority Forever,” a sudser from McG’s Wonderland Sound and Vision and “Prom Queen” producer Big Fantastic; Schwartz’s untitled project about a fictional Hollywood rock club; Auerbach’s reality skein “Rich Girl/Poor Girl”; and “Exposed,” a thriller exec produced by McG. The slate also includes 3-D horror adventure toon “Chadam”; “High Drama: Against All Oz,” a nonscripted series about the production of a high school musical; and thriller “Lockdown.”

The cost of the programming itself will be small compared with the investment in the actual sites; that, execs say, will help the venture’s viability. But Erwich stressed that the focus will be on content created for the Internet aud, not on cut-rate TV programming.

“This is not an incubator for cheap programming for cable or broadcast,” Erwich said. “The Internet is its own medium, and we want to be respectful of that. We’re not doing this to save money.”

Similarly, KidsWB.com will stream original toon shorts created by the WB Animation division, which last week saw the exit of topper Lisa Judson. KidsWB.com will focus on interactivity in the form of games and virtual worlds. Users will be able to customize avatars of characters such as Tweety.

“The only rule is there are no rules,” said Sam Ades, general manager of KidsWB.com.

There will be more than 100 games at launch, with more added as the site rolls out. McDonald’s and Mattel are early sponsors of the kids’ site.

TheWB.com content will be distributed through a variety of platforms, including Comcast, Fancast.com and AOL.

During the Gotham presentation, execs didn’t provide many details about the nature and frequency of potential ads, other than to stress how flexible and customizable the platform is. TV brass are meeting with the Madison Avenue crowd this week to tout the platform.

Although a promo reel plays up the WB connection, intoning “the WB is back — and with an attitude,” execs admit the name is more expedient than anything else.

“The brand is a great organizer for these things,” Erwich said. “There was a tremendous spirit to it.”

Ultimately, he said, the site will develop an identity of its own as it bows more original content. The biggest challenge it likely will face is the same one that afflicted the old WB: attracting enough eyeballs in a cluttered environment. But here, Erwich suggests, they may have an advantage in the dedicated fans for shows that aired on the defunct weblet — or elsewhere, for that matter.

“I think ultimately it’s about the shows,” Erwich said. “As we roll out more original content, it will become clearer.”

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