ABC plans to augment the return this week of its ABC.com video player, which will stream seven prime-time ABC shows this fall, by also beefing up the original short-form video offered on its Web site.
The streamed, full-length, ad-supported episodes are the centerpiece of the site. After testing the service with four shows earlier this year, ABC said last week it would feature seven this season: “Ugly Betty,” “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Six Degrees,” “The Knights of Prosperity” and “The Nine.”
But alongside them ABC will add about 100 short-form videos each week. That’s an increase of about 330 percent from last season, when ABC featured about 30 videos per week.
The short-form videos include promos, sneak peeks, recaps, sponsored content and original material, such as behind-the-scenes clips from show events and parties, as well as interviews with actors, directors and writers. The short-form videos are designed to support a selection of both hits and newcomers, including Disney-owned shows and shows produced by other studios.
ABC’s online video ramp-up, coupled with NBC’s news last week that it too will stream its prime-time shows on NBC.com, sends a loud signal that while networks will play ball with dominant online portals such as Google, AOL, Yahoo and iTunes, they intend to turn their own Web sites into online TV destinations too.
“We want people to go to ABC.com, not just Yahoo,” said Alexis Fife Rapo, VP of digital media for ABC.
To support its online video buildout, ABC installed a new online video facility in its Prospect Studio offices in Los Angeles, where the network shoots “Grey’s Anatomy” and “General Hospital.” ABC also plans to up the online video staff from two last year to nine by Oct. 1.
On the short-form video side, ABC plans to increase supporting video content for “Lost,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” “Knights of Prosperity,” “Ugly Betty,” “Six Degrees” and “The Bachelor.”
ABC’s focus on its Web site aligns with other industry developments. Networks have signified in various ways over recent weeks that they are willing to provide and distribute content as well as make investments that will enable them to do so. Last week, for example, NBC Universal introduced its NBBC venture, an online video syndication marketplace that gives NBC a berth as a broadband video provider, distributor and syndicator. Fox Interactive Media plans this fall to offer download-to-own versions of Fox TV shows across its network of sites, including MySpace, which FIM parent News Corp. bought for $580 million in July 2005.
ABC declined to comment on the cost of its new online video facility. Though the investment is small on the balance sheet of a massive media company, the ramp-up is emblematic of ABC’s aggressive approach to Internet video since it cemented its game-changing deal with iTunes last fall.
The network has both carved out a leadership role in new media and established that demand exists for online video consumption. ABC.com delivered 5.7 million views of episodes of its four shows on ABC.com during the spring trial, the company said. Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, said at a Merrill Lynch conference last week that ABC had sold more than 8.5 million downloads of ABC shows on iTunes since the deal last fall. She referred to that as a “small but growing incremental revenue stream.”
ABC has good reason to feel buoyed by its digital bets. At last week’s National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications conference in New York, the network’s Albert Cheng said revenue from ABC.com and the iTunes deal is exceeding internal predictions.
“We’re a little overwhelmed” by iTunes sales, said Mr. Cheng, executive VP of digital media for the Disney-ABC Television Group.
Recent short-form video on ABC.com included footage from the DVD release party for the second season of “Desperate Housewives” and rehearsal footage from “Dancing With the Stars.”
In addition, the online video group has sprinkled video throughout the ABC.com site rather than letting it live on the home page, as it did last year.
Building up a network Web site enables a network to maintain more control over how its content appears online, but should not be done not at the expense of other onlinevenues, said Todd Chanko, media analyst with Jupiter Research. Building up a network Web site enables a network to maintain more control over how its content appears online, but networks should also continue to offers their shows on iTunes, Google and other online venues, Mr. Chanko said. That’s because viewers aren’t as connected to networks these days.
“One of the challenges networks have always had is people don’t really choose a network, they choose TV programs,” he said.