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Bravo Making Digital Mandatory

May 15, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Bravo President Lauren Zalaznick is pushing her network further into the digital world.

Last week the network announced plans to launch two new broadband channels and complete the switch of Trio from a cable channel to one that resides on the Internet.

Bravo is owned by NBC Universal Television, whose president, Jeff Zucker, has spelled out a 360-degree strategy that calls for all programming to extend from television into digital media. With technology giving viewers more control over what they’re watching, NBC and the other networks are embracing digital to connect with their audiences and to create new revenue streams from marketers who want more than 30-second commercials for their advertising dollars.

“It’s a concerted effort to make each of the projects have a legitimate digital DNA to them from the get-go,” Ms. Zalaznick said.

She said the digital focus has changed the nature of her job. “You’re originating content for different platforms on different time frames. You’re managing productions and the whole notion of development and production in ways that I think were fairly foreign just a year or two ago.”

Bravo showed off its slate of new shows being developed, including a talk show starring comedian Joan Rivers and several competition shows in the vein of “Project Runway” and “Top Chef,” which have enabled the network to add more young viewers while remaining the cable entertainment channel with the most affluent viewers.

“When people come in to pitch my development team, they are absolutely challenged as to how it might have resonance in this 360-degree world that we’re in,” Ms. Zalaznick said. “If they’re not prepared to answer that, we send them away, and they sure go away and think about it and come back and tell us.”

While the digital ideas are being overseen mostly by the same production and development staff at the network, she noted that Bravo has recently been able to add a senior VP for new media, Lisa Hsia, and to appoint a VP of digital content and acquisitions, Kris Slava. “Everybody knows how difficult it is to get people and resources” at a tightly structured company like NBC,” Ms. Zalaznick said. “I have these two people on board. And they are busy doing our stuff.”

That stuff includes BrilliantButCancelled.com, a broadband channel dedicated to short-lived series with devoted audiences. BrilliantButCancelled.com will launch May 23 with a lineup of shows including “The Jake Effect,” “EZ Streets,” “Johnny Staccato,” “Delvecchio,” “Gideon Oliver” and “Touching Evil.”

Bravo will support the broadband channel by televising some of the shows on Bravo after they appear on the Web. For example, “The Jake Effect” will appear on cable May 25, two days after it premieres on broadband. The channel will also be promoted by NBCU’s Sleuth channel, which will air an “EZ Streets” marathon May 28.

Episodes of BrilliantButCancelled.com shows will also be available at Apple Computer’s iTunes Music Store and on DVD collections released by Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

Bravo also said it will launch OutZoneTV.com, a broadband channel aimed at the gay and lesbian community, June 1. The site, which grew out of a programming block on the cable channel, is a joint venture between Bravo and PlanetOut.com.

OutZoneTV will be promoted by Bravo on cable during programming targeted at gay and lesbian viewers, including “Three of Hearts,” a documentary making its TV debut June 16.

The broadband version of Trio is scheduled to launch over the summer, and BravoTV.com is due to unveil its makeover June 6.

Broadband channels are not simply a different way to distribute video programming, Ms. Zalaznick said. “The reason to spin off broadband standalone networks online is to create a community of people devoted to passion points in their lives.”

The sites will be ad-supported, and the costs of content are different on the Web than they are for cable.

“You’re not really producing 13 episodes of one-hours for the Web,” Ms. Zalaznick said. Broadband is creating a market for library acquisitions. Series such as “EZ Streets” command fees for online play on par with what a digital channel with fewer than 20 million homes would pay.

Ms. Zalaznick said she thinks there is a business model for broadband but wouldn’t say whether these new channels will be profitable in their first years.

On cable, Bravo said it has committed to a pilot for the Joan Rivers talk show, tentatively titled “Joan Rivers: Can We Dish.” Ms. Zalaznick sees the show, featuring the comedian and three male sidekicks, as a weekly prime-time show.

Other series on the slate are “War of the Wives,” in which experts teach their specialties to their wives, who then compete for cash; “Heads Up,” a hairstylists competition; “The Inn Crowd,” in which aspiring business owners compete to win an inn; and “Top Decorator,” which searches for the next great American interior decorator.