Lifetime Goes Rah-Rah for Broadband

Mar 6, 2006  •  Post A Comment

“Cheerleader Nation’s” debut March 12 on Lifetime will mark the start of an expansive new broadband programming slate for the network.

As part of its promotional push for “Cheerleader Nation”-a one-hour reality series about members of the cheerleading squad at Lexington, Ky.’s Dunbar High School, which is competing for its third consecutive national championship-Lifetime is using broadband-delivered video diaries to augment the linear series.

The network has put 10 video cameras into the hands of the show’s stars-the cheerleaders, their moms and the coach-to create video chronicles of their experiences for the network’s Web site, Lifetimetv.com, and for Yahoo, Comcast.net and Seventeen magazine at Seventeen.com.

That’s a vast increase over the amount of broadband video the network developed in support of past series, and the growth in content is possible technologically because of Lifetime’s new digital operations center in New York, which is designed to enable easy production and repurposing of content for multiple platforms.

As it has become standard practice for networks to expand the borders of their shows into broadband, video-on-demand, mobile phones and other new media, they are also confronting the practical considerations of how to get that done. For many that means taking a hard look at how content is moved around a network’s divisions and groups. Because the need to distribute in multiple forms has surfaced in earnest over the past several months, many networks are now scrambling to install the capabilities to move fluidly across platforms.

Lifetime is ahead of the curve, said Janet Gardner, president of Perspective Media Group, a strategic consultancy in San Francisco. “We are starting to see movement in the past six months toward evaluation and implementation of asset management, but it’s still new,” Ms. Gardner said.

The video diaries for “Cheerleader Nation,” which are broadband companion pieces to the on-air show, are one of the initial projects made possible by the new technical facility, which officially goes live March 20. Because the diaries are unscripted and presented from the perspectives of the girls and the moms, they provide a day-in-the-life look and feel that goes deeper than what’s on TV, said Sibyl Goldman, executive producer for LifetimeTV.com. The broadband content includes a “Cheerleading 101” video gallery devoted to cheerleading moves.

After “Cheerleader Nation,” next up for a broadband massage will be “Lovespring,” a half-hour comedy series about a matchmaking service premiering in June. This broadband expansion also fits with Lifetime’s efforts to reach out to younger audiences, which tend to glom onto online video content quickly. “It’s an opportunity to expose new viewers to the new programming vibe,” Ms. Goldman said.

The cost of an asset management system can range anywhere from a few hundred thousand dollars to more than $1 million, Ms. Gardner said. Lifetime declined to disclose its costs, but said its equipment had been due for an upgrade as part of regular capital budget cycles.

A digital facility is a big change because most networks still live in an analog world. While content is increasingly available via digital outlets, most footage still arrives as tape. That tape then becomes the source material for all future iterations of the show, be it in high definition, on cable, broadband, mobisodes or VOD. Lifetime will use the facility for all of those platforms, though broadband is the area the network is targeting most aggressively for now.

Asset management systems, which five years ago were geared toward helping networks transition from tape to digital, have become a priority again in the quest to distribute content efficiently for new platforms said George Grippo, president and chief operating officer of Venaca, the asset management vendor whose tech tools serve as the central nervous system for the new Lifetime facility.

This month, the new system will help Ms. Goldman’s broadband group handle the incoming footage from several shows, including the 75 or so tapes she expected to receive last week from “Cheerleader Nation” stars. Lifetime will use that footage to create the diaries for Lifetime’s Web site and the other online outlets. Those sites use different file formats, but the new system can easily create what’s needed with less work than before, Ms. Goldman said.

The 50,000-square-foot facility is meant to be a broadcast post-production facility, and the primary goal is to allow Lifetime to access video as a file rather than on tape, said Gwynne McConkey, senior VP of operations and information systems and technology for Lifetime Entertainment Services. Within the new facility, content can zip around easily in high-resolution digital file form.

Centralization Needed

Other networks are looking into new-age digital infrastructure plays. Scripps Networks, for one, is evaluating options for a media asset strategy but has not made any decisions, said Ron Feinbaum, senior VP and general manager for Scripps Networks Interactive. “It is a necessity. As these assets become more diverse in their use across multiple platforms, you have to have a centralized system to manage them,” he said.

A number of new tech entrants are also emerging to fill this need. Companies such as The Platform and Anystream offer software to help media companies produce and play out content across multiple platforms.

Anystream’s customers include AOL, HBO, CNN, E! Online and AccuWeather.

Particularly with time-sensitive content such as weather forecasts, delivering video to clients as quickly as possible to service all of their new programming needs is critical, said Lee Rainey, VP of marketing for AccuWeather.

Broadband ‘Nation’

Broadband video content for the March 12 launch of Lifetime’s “Cheerleader Nation” includes a mix of exclusive scenes, video diaries and so-called “sizzle reels,” which feature highlights and scenes. Here’s how it breaks down at the Web sites involved:

MSN.com: Syndication of clips and video to MSN Video

Yahoo.com: Syndication of exclusive clips; premiere of the first episode (or part of it); sizzle reel

MySpace.com:Syndication of video

LifetimeTV.com: Profiles of the girls; video preview; how-to videos of about a dozen popular cheers in “Cheerleader 101”; video diaries