When it comes to television on the Web and on handheld gadgets, five minutes may be the new half-hour.
Massive quantities of old shows and new programs are being tailored for short-form viewing. The phenomenon is generating a new TV vocabulary of words such as “webisode” and “mobisode,” a sobriquet that executives at News Corp.’s Fox unit have trademarked.
Short-form content suits mobile and Web platforms for the same reasons: One, the limitations of streaming video make long-form content cumbersome. Two, unlike television, people using phones and computers are accustomed to interactivity and instant gratification.
Those imperatives have led to a blossoming of short-form content-exactly the kind of programming television networks have not been doing for the past 50 years.
MTV Networks was one of the first companies to dive in, announcing broadband players for Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1 and other networks, along with a slew of short-form shows. Last month, MTV continued its push with a new broadband channel called The Stew, which specializes in short bits.
“It’s in the MTV DNA-our roots are in music videos and the short-form content that goes with that,” said Brian Graden, president of entertainment for MTV and VH1. “The other thing is we’re serving the YouTube generation … so even if the economics are not aligned yet, you still want to be trafficking in the culture and content of your audience. It’s really a leap of faith.”
NBC Universal has also been aggressive, with Television Group CEO Jeff Zucker announcing his TV 360 initiative, requiring every new show to include a package of content suitable for phones, video-on-demand and the Internet.
“There is a push and a pull,” said Gordon Borrell, CEO of Borrell Associates, a research firm tracking Internet advertising. “The push part is media companies realizing the best opportunity for growth is the Internet.
The pull part is the consumers, with broadband video in about 50 percent of Internet households hitting critical mass and Internet advertising taking off.”
The question remains how effective such short-form new media content is for increasing viewership or generating revenue.
“There’s a lot of miners in Tombstone trying to strike gold,” Mr. Borrell said. “This is much more about user-generated content, or content that’s uniquely formatted for interactivity, and the people who understand that those are the ones who are going to win,” he said.
Some networks have remained wary about short form. Due to the lack of available advertising revenue, John Landgraf, president of entertainment for FX, has held off expanding the network online and instead opted for promotional sites on MySpace.
“When you look at what succeeds online, it’s a killer application,” Mr. Landgraf said. “If FX created a linear extension of the channel, we could trumpet our impressions by growing 40 to 50 percent, but it’s nothing like the traffic you get on a YouTube or MySpace.”