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WB, Yahoo! Offer ‘Super’ Preview

Sep 5, 2005  •  Post A Comment

For only the second time, a major broadcaster is making available online an entire episode of a debuting show before it runs on the network.

The WB Network, Warner Bros. Television and Internet company Yahoo! are partnering to give online users an exclusive look at the network’s new drama series “Supernatural.” A stream providing full access to the first episode of “Supernatural” will be available on the Yahoo TV Web site Sept. 6-12 to anyone with Internet access. “Supernatural” premieres Sept. 13 on The WB.

The premiere episode of “Supernatural,” the show The WB considers its highest-profile debuting series this fall, will run on Yahoo in its entirety, commercial-free. “Supernatural” will be available to view anytime during the seven-day period it runs on Yahoo, but will not be downloadable. The partners in the “Supernatural” promotion on Yahoo are hoping the Internet company’s youthful-skewing user base will take advantage of the stream more than 100 million times, Garth Ancier, chairman of The WB, said.

“If we can really get 100 million impressions from Yahoo, that’s a tremendous awareness builder for the show we can’t buy for almost any price in this society right now,” he said.

This is the second time The WB has previewed a show in cyberspace, something no other network has done. In 2004 The WB and sister company AOL teamed to offer the Internet company’s 3.5 million AOL for Broadband subscribers a sneak preview of the entire premiere episode of family drama “Jack & Bobby.” Subscribers viewed all or part of the “Jack & Bobby” episode more than 700,000 times over eight days in late August and early September.

Despite the show’s cancellation in its first season, Mr. Ancier called last year’s “Jack & Bobby” run on AOL a success for the network. “The highest number we ever got for ‘Jack & Bobby’ was the very first show,” he said. “What we learned is people would come to the Web and try a show out. It’s still not the optimal way to watch a television show, but our bet is the awareness it creates is worth allowing this exposure over a stream on the Internet.”

The WB-Yahoo collaboration on a show that is clearly important to parent company Time Warner is surprising considering the network this time is bypassing AOL to work with one of its fiercest rivals.

The partnership with Yahoo is not an indication that the broadcast network has a problem with its Time Warner corporate cousin, Mr. Ancier said.

“Our relationship with AOL is terrific, and it continues to be terrific,” Mr. Ancier said, noting that The WB has been “one of the pioneers” when it comes to buying ads that run on AOL’s instant messenger windows. As part of the network’s estimated $5 million off-network promotional budget for “Supernatural,” The WB will also run ads on AOL promoting “Supernatural’s” broadcast premiere. “This seemed like a chance to play with another major player we also have a major relationship with,” he added.

Like all broadcasters, The WB is struggling to launch its new shows amid the premieres of rival networks and cablers. The Yahoo partnership will help “Supernatural” stand out from its competitors, Mr. Ancier said: “Particularly given there are 150 shows launching in a two-week window, anything that makes this seem important is absolutely essential.”

That also explains why the network is focusing primarily on one show in its partnership with Yahoo. Mr. Ancier pointed to ABC’s success last year, when the network focused its fall promotional campaign on just two of its scripted shows, “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost.” The strategy helped launch the highly successful series and drew viewers to other ABC programming. That raised the whole network’s fortunes.

“We think ‘Supernatural’ has the chance to break out quickly,” he said. “All four of our new [fall] shows are excellent. The one that has immediate appeal is ‘Supernatural.'”

Yahoo has an informal corporate connection to The WB and the television industry as a whole. Terry Semel, chairman and CEO of the Internet company, was the longtime co-chief of Warner Bros., while Lloyd Braun, head of the Yahoo Media Group, was chair of the ABC Entertainment Television Group. Yahoo’s hiring of Mr. Semel and Mr. Braun indicated to many television executives that the Internet company was serious about becoming a top competitor in the world of the Internet and as a place to watch programming, a business long dominated solely by the traditional media conglomerates.

Under the terms of the agreement with The WB, Yahoo will promote the availability of “Supernatural” on a number of its key properties, including its home page.

Serving up “Supernatural” serves two purposes for Yahoo, said the company’s Head of Entertainment and Sports David Katz, who previously ran the CBS.com and UPN.com Web sites as a CBS executive.

“We get a chance to serve our users with an exclusive experience they can’t find anywhere else,” Mr. Katz said. “It allows us to build a deeper and more meaningful relationship with a great media company like Warner Bros.”

In May Yahoo did a similar promotion with Showtime. The premiere episode of “Fat Actress” ran online simultaneously with the cable premiere, not in advance. That effort garnered more than 1 million streams of the full episode and video clips.

Like last year’s “Jack & Bobby” event, the “Supernatural” run is being considered promotion for the show’s broadcast, which is supported by both affiliates and the creative unions.

“We would not be able to do this without the good graces of the guilds,” Mr. Ancier said. “The stations last year were very, very supportive.”

One of the reasons affiliates may be so supportive is that watching a television show on a computer screen still compares unfavorably in terms of picture size and quality to viewing the same show on a television set, Mr. Ancier said.

“When it becomes real competition, that will be a time to explore how you use it as a promotional tool,” he said.