USA Preps New Media Rush

May 8, 2006  •  Post A Comment

USA Network President Bonnie Hammer is set to unveil a sweeping new media plan at next week’s annual upfront presentation in New York-including a broadband channel, a partnership with Yahoo and a strategy to use cable operators’ video-on-demand services to debut entire premiere episodes of upcoming series.

The plans are part of a series of firsts for the top-rated NBC Universal cable network, which is upholding NBC Universal Television Group CEO Jeff Zucker’s recent promise to create digital packages for all series.

At least one part of the new media plan will be a first for the industry itself: On a weekly basis, USA will offer the opening scene of popular series free on-demand, allowing viewers to sample the beginning of each upcoming episode throughout the week.

The USA plan gets the network closer to being on par with basic cable new media aggressors such as MTV, Comedy Central, ESPN and Sci Fi, all of which have launched broadband channels stuffed with exclusive content. Ms. Hammer said the new media gold rush reminds her of the early days of cable.

“I love the fact that I grew up in cable back when there were no rules,” she said. “It’s kind of the Wild West again.”

USA premieres its original dramas each summer. Already on a ratings roll, thanks to World Wrestling Entertainment, USA is gearing up its new media efforts to coincide with the return of “Monk” and “The 4400” and the debut of “Psych,” described as a quirky investigative drama.

The push kicks off May 11 with the launch of the CharacterClique broadband channel. The channel will include user-generated content and new exclusive web-only episodes from “Monk” and “Psych.”

The channel’s name was decided just late last week, with USA executives contemplating the merits of various possible broadband monikers-including CharacterZone and USA COD (for “Characters On Demand”)-before deciding on CharacterClique.

Special Programming

On May 21 USA will release a special “4400” compilation episode-“The 4400 Special: Unlocking the Secrets”-designed to introduce the show to new viewers. The episode will premiere exclusively on Yahoo TV for one week, then will air on USA’s Web site, and next will appear on USA’s regular network, as well as on fellow NBCU outlets Sci Fi and Bravo.

This summer, USA will also expand “4400” content online, adding Web exclusives such as audio podcasts, an “interactive diary” game and weekly blogs from writers, producers and characters on the show.

For the back-to-back premieres of “Monk” and “Psych,” USA has other digital tricks up its sleeve.

The channel will partner with cable operators to offer exclusive video-on-demand content. The premiere episodes of both series will debut exclusively on-demand June 30-one week before the linear premiere.

Afterward, on a weekly basis viewers can watch the opening scenes from each upcoming episode on-demand as well.

Will Richmond, president of consulting group Broadband Directions, noted USA’s plans fit a promotional model for entering the new media space rather than taking the more uncertain path of replicating a linear channel online.

“It sounds like it’s all promotional in nature, which makes a ton of sense for them and works very nicely to surround the user with USA Network content,” Mr. Richmond said.

Ms. Hammer said the channel plans to closely monitor viewer and advertiser reaction to best determine the content saturation sweet spot.

Though networks have offered preview content for upcoming episodes before, this is thought to be the first time such content will be offered on an ongoing basis, particularly via VOD.