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‘Extra’ host launches social TV venture

AfterBuzz TV to partner with Bing, Akamai

She may be best known as host of syndie newsmag “Extra,” but Maria Menounos has been quietly building a different kind of brand covering the entertainment world.

Menounos is the sole backer of AfterBuzz TV, an online network officially launching Monday. The website has grown enough in beta mode over its first 10 months to attract new partnerships with Microsoft search engine Bing and streaming media specialist Akamai.

Afterbuzz rides the coattails of around 40 of TV’s most popular primetime series by going online as quickly as 10-15 minutes after each episode’s original airdate with a live webcast transmitting from its Los Angeles HQ for fans to dissect what they just watched. The venture employs a roster of hosts who moderate discussions that include fans who can call in or weigh in from chatrooms as well as guests from both sides of the camera on the shows being discussed.

Last year, Afterbuzz held a live screening of the “Breaking Bad” season finale with stars from the series in tow including Aaron Paul, who joined Menounos for a post-episode conversation.

But it’s audio podcasts of Afterbuzz shows that have proved even more popular than the live webcasts, which may be expected given the significant portion of viewers who may be watching their favorite shows days later via VOD or DVR.

The series that are the most popular draws on Afterbuzz — USA’s “WWE Raw,” MTV’s “Jersey Shore” and FX’s “American Horror Story” rank as top attractions — can yield anywhere from 250,000-500,000 downloads on iTunes.

“I really believe strongly in digital media being the future,” said Menounos who runs AfterBuzz with Keven Undergaro, a partner in her production company. “As a passionate TV fan, this was something I just had to do.”

Menounos also hopes to give Afterbuzz a boost as a cast member on the upcoming season of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” It will be the first series her company will have a correspondent based inside the production and she plans to do Afterbuzz sessions after each “Dancing” episode with the occasional contribution of fellow castmates (should she stay on the series long enough).

While she contributes to the occasional program, most AfterBuzz programming is hosted by hundreds of different TV fans drawn from the legions of actors, comedians and other industry types living in Los Angeles.

Bing will come on as a sponsor in advance of additional integrations between the two properties. The other is with streaming media specialist Akamai is taking over hosting duties for video and audio versions of AfterBuzz programming.

Whether streaming live or downloading later, all Afterbuzz programs are free to consume. And the consumption is coming from all over the world given the popularity of U.S. TV series in overseas markets.

Next on Afterbuzz agenda is the launch of an app to capitalize on the growing percentage of its audience watching and listening from wireless devices. The venture has already broadened out to covering movies soon after their release.

Afterbuzz is staking out territory that a growing number of TV channels are starting to carve out themselves. MTV, Bravo, AMC and Lifetime are among the nets in recent years who have given existing hits their own companion shows that air immediately afterward.

The venture also finds itself on the rise as a cottage industry of social-TV startups try to grab market share of the conversation surrounding hit TV programming.

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