Cable Giants Race Into Broadband

Oct 31, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Broadband video is growing so fast it’s not funny.

If you want laughs this week, you can log on to Comedy Central’s new broadband site, MotherLoad, where you’ll find short-form programming such as clips from “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” original short-form programs including “I Love the Thirties,” a newsreel that spoofs VH1, and “Shadow Rock,” which the network describes as a dark and twisted cartoon.

Comedy Central parent Viacom is one media company taking broadband very seriously. Over the past few months it has been rushing to create broadband sites for all of its networks. After Comedy Central, CMT and Spike TV will launch sites of their own.

Viacom is certainly not alone, since other companies with television properties are also jumping into the broadband video world, including Fox, CNN, Scripps Networks and others.

TV companies are looking to branch out into new technologies, partly out of fear the market for traditional 30-second-spot-based advertising may dry up due to TiVo and other ad-skipping technologies. Advertising on broadband is burgeoning, with demand exceeding supply and prices exceeding those on television in some cases.

“There is going to be a significant revenue stream associated with this. And for that reason you can look at it as a business,” said Josh Bernoff, analyst at Forrester Research. “It’s really taking off like mad.”

At this point, there is more demand for advertising space on broadband video sites than there is supply, which has pushed prices to higher cost-per-thousand levels than some broadcast shows and nearly all of cable, said Kari Hooper, associate media director, Starcom USA.

She said CPMs for broadband ranged from $14 to $27 on a household basis. Broadcast CPMs are in the $20-$25 range; cable is generally about half that.

“What we’re finding now because there’s incredible demand, our broadband CPMs are four or five times what the television CPMs are,” said Greg D’Alba, executive VP and chief operating officer of CNN.

Forrester’s Mr. Bernoff estimates that broadband video advertising is already a business that needs to be measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Between half and three-quarters of the activity here is in people who already have a television presence,” he said. “So it’s all very nice that AtomFilms can make money off this, but a lot of the video you see is already coming from CNN or Fox News or The Weather Channel or MTV. Even if it was never on the air, it’s a lot easier for those companies to create video that people want to look at than some random company.”

Indeed, broadband is a platform that’s a natural for Viacom’s MTV Networks.

“It’s been what I’d call a watershed year, obviously, for broadband and for us, and Overdrive, which we launched in the summer, has been an unmitigated success,” said Brian Graden, president of MTV programming.

MTV’s Overdrive broadband site delivered 13 million video streams from the Video Music Awards, during or after the show ran on cable. Overdrive also offered a preview of an Alicia Keys “Unplugged” performance, and over a seven-day period, 1 million people watched via broadband video.

“Overdrive delivered more of an audience than very often the TV experience would, before it even premiered,” Mr. Graden said. “You just look at the numbers like that and it’s sort of undeniable. And I do think that the companies that can make great short-form video have a near-term advantage, and so that’s why we’re really high on Overdrive.”

For its part, CNN reorganized its sales force to take advantage of anticipated growth in digital advertising. Most often the network sells packages that include television spots, broadband video and clickable banner ads.

“Number 1, you want to build brand image with the proper environment. No. 2, you want to reach the consumer 24/7, and you want to create a point-of-purchase opportunity,” Mr. D’Alba said. “It’s marketing 101, looking at the future and realizing that the future is here. History will show that this will be the fastest-growing marketing device in the history of the business.”

While specialized cable outlets have been out in front of the broadband charge, more traditional television companies don’t want to miss this train as it pulls out of the station.

“The only nightmare scenario would be if you have your traditional media out there and you’re not able to adjust and adopt to where the eyeballs are going,” said Bert Solivan, executive VP of Fox Interactive Media. Parent News Corp. has been snapping up Internet companies, including MySpace.com.

Twenty-something MySpace users “are so used to going out there and getting everything that they need to get on the Internet,” Mr. Solivan said. “The traditional media is almost an afterthought; this is their traditional media.”

Fox Interactive is studying subscription-based business models and The Walt Disney Co.’s deal with Apple to sell shows to video iPod users, but “Right now, we’re still looking at an ad-supported model,” he said.

And while it has previewed such shows as “The O.C.” and “Prison Break” online, it’s more likely to make snippets of content available, rather than entire full-length TV shows and movies.

Mr. Solivan sees broadband as a complement to Fox’s other outlets, “another vehicle where we can monetize the content we’re creating. If we do it in the traditional space but fail to do it effectively in the Internet space, then it’s shame on us. But if we do it well [in broadband], then you’re really able to hit on all fronts.”

Scripps’ Broad Presence

Scripps Networks has been aggressively making its content available online and is setting up new broadband channels specializing on areas such as kitchen repairs to tighten its ability to target specific audiences.

“We think that there certainly is a business there for us that augments and is a growth area in connection with our main business, which is providing television programming via traditional distribution,” Executive VP Burton Jablin said.

Mr. Jablin said the company wants “to be there” for consumers who want to use its content, regardless of the technology used to deliver that content. “And obviously we want to make money at it, which can be tricky,” he added.

Some of the MTV Networks are already making money at broadband. Others are close.

Even with very limited commercials because it targets kids, Nickelodeon’s Turbo Nick, launched in July, is in the black. “Costs for developing Turbo Nick were relatively minimal,” said Mike Skagerlind, general manager and senor VP of Nick Online.

Turbo Nick serves 15 million to 20 million video streams a month to 2 million to 3 million unique users, he said. “We give kids access to Nickelodeon programming wherever they happen to be,” Mr. Skagerlind said.

That programming includes online originals, classic Nick programming such as “The Adventures of Pete and Pete,” which no longer runs on the cable channel, and previews of new shows, such as “Catscratch.”

MTV creates a variety of original programming for Overdrive, such as an after-show for “Laguna Beach.” “And there’s music news and news on music or movies or performance series that aren’t seen on-air just for Overdrive,” said Jason Hirshhorn, who was promoted to MTV Networks’ inaugural chief digital officer last week.

Beth Lewand, VP of digital media for Comedy Central, said the new MotherLoad site will have five original series with episodes ranging from three to six minutes in length. Users can choose from the clips or sit back and listen to a feed hosted by comedian Greg Giraldo.

“Everything is shorts, but there’s a whole lot of good stuff there,” she said.

James Hibberd contributed to this report.