Station Sites Get in on ‘Men’

May 8, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Syndicated programming has joined the broadband revolution.

As part of the off-network syndication rollout of its sitcom “Two and a Half Men” for fall 2007, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution will allow local stations to stream entire episodes of the series exclusively on their Web sites-giving stations the chance to garner Internet-derived viewers and ad revenue that until now has been reserved for networks or Internet companies.

The move “allows purchasers to have a significant role in the digital distribution of that program,” said Bruce Rosenblum, president of Warner Bros. Television Group, during a press conference on the studio’s Burbank lot last Wednesday.

Giving stations the right to use “Men” on their Web sites is not just for the benefit of stations-the move also shores up the studio as the controlling factor in establishing digital platform guidelines. Warner Bros., which provides programming to all the broadcast networks, has been a vocal opponent of the notion that networks should control digital distribution. In recent debates between networks such as Fox and ABC and their affiliates over digital distribution, “What’s not discussed is the content provider,” Mr. Rosenblum said.

Five episodes will be streamed for free on station Web sites for seven days, the week after the episodes first air on the stations. The episodes will run with advertising, revenue from which will be evenly split between the local station and Warner Bros. The amount of ad inventory that each episode will contain is still being worked out, Mr. Rosenblum said.

In terms of a potential cable run for “Men,” the network that gets the show will also be able to stream episodes on its Web site. The studio said it will issue different episodes to broadcasters and cable networks so the two batches of episodes will not be the same. A Warner Bros. spokesman said it’s likely stations will get at least one year of exclusivity before “Men” becomes available on cable.

While stations welcome the chance to promote their Web sites and boost their online ad revenues, having the right to air “Men” all to themselves-at the right price-is still a top concern.

Still, any digital overture directed toward stations is a positive development, one that other studios providing syndicated content should emulate, said Neal Sabin, executive VP of Weigel Broadcasting, which owns Chicago independent station WCIU-TV.

“We just need the rights and the access,” Mr. Sabin said. “Maybe everyone else will start following.”

Online viewers will be able to fast-forward and pause the episodes, but they will have to watch the ads in full. Aside from offering the episodes to stations, Warner Bros. will supply what it calls “enhanced content modules,” which will include behind-the-scenes interviews, outtakes, bloopers, contests and games. Downloading of episodes will not be permitted, since Warner Bros. considers that function the equivalent of offering “Men” on DVD.

Warner Bros. could have opted to stream the “Men” episodes on its own Web site, said Dick Robertson, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. But the studio thought “the best way to make this work is [to] work in partnership with stations,” he said.

Warner Bros. has been talking up the show as one of the few successful comedies to come into the syndication marketplace since King World introduced “Everybody Loves Raymond” in syndication in 2001. A booklet handed out at the Wednesday presentation pointed out that “Men” got higher ratings in adults 25 to 54 so far this season than any of its off-network competitors scheduled to debut in syndication in 2007, and currently there are no off-network comedies expected to debut in syndication in 2008. Because of this, Warner Bros. is asking stations for a premium when it comes to fees.