Broadcast Outlines Digital Strategies

Jun 6, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Claire Atkinson

Advertising Age

Soon desperate housewives across America will be able to play “Desperate Housewives” the video game-unless they’d rather try their hands at “Lost.”

The broadcast networks are finally starting to make their digital plays and outline their strategies for operating in an interactive world of consumer-empowering technologies. ABC’s video games, set for a 2006 launch, are among a host of emerging media moves by the networks, as they experiment with online streaming video, video-on-demand, mobile phone content and podcasts.

“It’s definitely game on,” said Bruce Gersh, Los Angeles-based senior VP of business development at ABC Entertainment. “This is the year where everybody is attempting to play in this space. The goal is to have content everywhere at any time and any place.”

The real impetus for this new media movement came more from advertisers eager not only to experiment in these areas but also to connect their multimillion-dollar TV buys with more reliable ways of measuring ad effectiveness than simple ratings.

“There is a little bit of inertia when you sit at the top of the heap. For the first time, we’ve started hearing that this is being driven by the advertiser side rather than the sales side,” said David Cohen, senior VP and interactive media director at Universal McCann, part of Interpublic Group of Cos.

Audrey Steele, senior VP of sales research and marketing at Fox Broadcasting Co., agreed: “The advertisers are pushing. All our major clients are saying, ‘What have you got?'” Ms. Steele points to a speech given by Jim Stengel, Procter & Gamble’s global chief marketing officer, back in November as the tipping point for much of the new media activity. Mr. Stengel called for greater experimentation with alternatives to mass media.

The frenzy of activity at the broadcast networks comes after years of watching their cable brethren run off ahead. Chris Boothe, executive VP and co-director of the video investment group at Publicis Groupe’s Starcom USA, said: “Cable networks have taken an early lead … because they typically produce more of their own content.

These new media ventures don’t yet always lead to an opportunity for advertising. In many cases, new media are still regarded as experiments closed for sale until the kinks are worked out or the business models are established.

Much of Fox’s learning in the wireless realm has come from its partnership with Cingular, which sponsors “American Idol.” The company created original “mobisodes” of its hit show “24,” short clips that can be downloaded to mobile phones. Already the News Corp. unit claims its content reaches 180 million cellphone users in the United States.

The Walt Disney Co.-owned network is also readying an ABC/Touchstone entertainment channel destined for VOD, which is still in the early stages, though other entertainment content could land on cable systems by the fall. “I go back to what will define each of us differently, and it is quality,” said Mr. Gersh..

CBS, under new digital czar Larry Kramer, is planning a slew of media-related announcements in the next three months, including additional online investment. As president of CBS Digital Media, Mr. Kramer oversees CBS.com, CBS SportsLine and a host of other sites and is looking at expanding the company’s searchable video archives beyond its current deal with Yahoo!

In April NBC Universal named Deborah Reif as president of NBC Universal Digital Media. At an analysts meeting in February, the company outlined its strategy as a pure content provider in new media and estimated that digital content distribution, ini the future, could be worth around $14 billion, with NBC Universal hoping to take between $200 million to $400 million of the pie.