‘Access’ Gets Web Makeover

May 15, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Earlier this month, NBC Universal demonstrated the growing importance it is putting on Web content by quietly relaunching its “Access Hollywood” Web site to include more video and ad inventory and more frequent updates.

To make that change, the show brought all services to manage the Web site in-house, a move indicative of how seriously media companies are treating the online opportunity now-they are willing to invest the resources internally to manage their Web sites because online represents both an important new brand extension and also a rich advertising opportunity.

NBC Universal plans to make the first public announcement of the revamped site during NBC’s upfront this week. The new site will play a large role in the show’s pitch to advertisers.

The “Access Hollywood” Web facelift is also part of the broader work NBC Universal is conducting across its cable and broadcast properties as part of its new “360” strategy to live on all platforms. “Access,” along with Sci Fi Channel, Bravo and NBC, were identified last fall as some of the first properties in line for multiplatform reworking, said Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC Universal cable entertainment, digital content and cross-network strategy.

“We are changing these from marketing sites to businesses,” he said. “This is part of ‘Access Hollywood’ as opposed to just a companion platform. … Eight months ago we tried to determine which of our properties and which of our content assets would travel well in other platforms, and ‘Access Hollywood’ was one of the identified ones. While there are a few Hollywood brands out there, there aren’t that many that have daily shows that have that familiarity,” Mr. Gaspin said.

As the site moves toward revenue generation, it will include more ad opportunities. It will double the amount of ad inventory available and will begin offering sponsorships of mini-sites that cover events such as the Golden Globes, Tonys and Emmys that are mainstays of “Access Hollywood.” “It’s a more attractive environment for advertisers,” said Betsy Bergman, VP of marketing for NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. There are also new sponsorship opportunities through pre-roll ads on the video player, photo galleries, polls, surveys, special features and mini-sites.

The new site is designed to satisfy viewers’ appetites for entertainment news with more celebrity profiles, behind-the-scenes footage from events and the show, and the daily news headlines, she said.

To shepherd the new site, “Access Hollywood” hired a new managing editor, Jeremy Blacklow. The site had previously been outsourced to Internet Broadcasting Systems, which manages Web sites for local TV stations. IBS still handles the sites for the NBC stations group. The company was not available for comment on the “Access Hollywood” change.

As Web sites transition from promotional tools to new distribution platforms, other media companies may choose to wrest more control as well. “Corporate Web sites have become so important for companies that they want to control their sites directly rather than depending on outside companies,” said Charles Hall, senior analyst with broadband video research firm Rider Research. “That doesn’t mean they don’t use outside firms to help design and build the sites. It’s just that they consider the content on the site so strategically important that they don’t want to explain to and wait for a third party to make updates.”

A number of TV station groups have reconfigured their relationships with Internet vendors to allow the stations to have more control over their Web sites, said Gordon Borrell, president of media research firm Borrell Associates. That’s because the Internet is no longer just a headache to be solved by outsourcing, he said. “Before, it was a red-headed stepchild. An interesting aside. It was a cost center. Now we are seeing a lot of these Web sites becoming revenue opportunities.”

New Features

The new site includes expanded coverage of on-air segments and a homegrown video player. The number of video clips posted each day will rise to six to eight from three and will include more interviews and daily clips of stories that appeared on-air.

Mr. Blacklow said the site will also include original video. For instance, material for the Web might include interviews conducted at a press junket for a film. In most cases, only the interview with the film’s star will appear on air, but the additional interviews with supporting actors could be used online, Mr. Blacklow said. In addition, “Access Hollywood” experts on movies, TV and music will contribute to the site, and it will include blogs from the talent and the producers. He added that in the next few months, AccessHollywood.com will include Spanish-language sections and content for the teen and tween communities.

The new site should look better, too. The old site “was messy, confusing to the eye,” Mr. Blacklow said. “We are taking this into the [21st] century of what an entertainment Web site should be.”

That’s important because it is competing with a select handful of entertainment blogs. “‘Access Hollywood’ is seeking to capture an audience hungry for entertainment news and the rogue Web sites aren’t vetting for accuracy,” Mr. Blacklow said. “We are the mainstream media.”

He declined to disclose the investment NBC Universal is making in the new site, but it included purchasing encoders to upload video to the Web and software to convert the video in the appropriate format for the Web site. He expects the site to break even this year and to become profitable in early 2007.

“As the Internet becomes more pervasive, the Internet will become as popular as the TV show. You can’t ignore the Internet when it comes to your brand,” he said.

A Web site is a two-sided opportunity for media companies, said David Hallerman, an analyst with eMarketer. A site with strong video can attract an incremental audience who might not even be watching the show on traditional TV, and it is also a chance to market the show.

“Access Hollywood” will market the new site on-air, within the NBC Universal family of Web sites such as NBC.com and BravoTV.com and on signage in the Universal Studios theme park, Ms. Bergman said.

The show has already reached into other new platforms such as cellular video through deals with Verizon Wireless and Cingular. In addition, show content is available on iTunes.

Changes to the ‘Access Hollywood’ Site:

  • Expanded Web coverage to complement on-air segments

  • New video player with interviews and behind-the-scenes footage; site offers six to eight video clips per day

  • Daily clips from show

  • Site will include original content for online, such as interviews that didn’t make it on-air, plus blogs from the producers, sections in Spanish and sections for the teen/tween communities

    Additional ‘Access Hollywood’ Cross-Platform Extensions:

  • Mobile video: “Access” provides segments each week to Verizon Wireless, including some exclusive clips, and provides clips to Amp’d Mobile and Cingular

  • iTunes: “Access” offers four to five original segments per week