The next episode of FX’s “The Shield” won’t appear on the network. It will be streamed on Bud.TV as part of a multimillion-dollar ad and promotion deal with Anheuser-Busch.
Bud.TV is an entertainment Web site that will be launched the day after the Super Bowl by A-B, which is moving marketing money from TV to the Web to reach young men who are spending more time on the Internet. Ten percent of the beer-maker’s $600 million media budget will go online this year.
The site will get the 15-minute mini-episode of “The Shield” exclusively for four weeks.
Bud.TV has commissioned original programs from some well-known outfits, including Warner Bros.’ digital production venture Studio 2.0 (See sidebar.)
It’s FX, though, that last year pioneered the idea of creating mini-episodes to promote “Rescue Me.” A short episode of that program appeared on AOL, the FX network Web site and cable video-on-demand services, generating millions of impressions. It was also sponsored, which brought in revenue.
FX executives figured their network would benefit in several ways from Bud.TV’s four-week exclusive run of the “Shield” episode. A-B is paying the network for use of the show and the innovative nature of the deal enhances FX’s relationship with a major advertiser while extending the promotional footprint for the network and its biggest show. A-B also bought a sizeable schedule of commercials on FX.
John Landgraf, president of FX, has embraced the new model rather than viewing his content as ammunition for a rival media platform.
“We’ve reconciled the idea of producing these things for these other media because it really helps us market,” Mr. Landgraf said.
“We get an enormous amount of play for these clips in digital media sites,” he said. “We’d put it on AOL or we’d put it on Heavy or we’d put it on YouTube. If you want to look at this as a general entertainment network, AOL is a lot closer to a competitor in many ways than Bud.TV is at this point.”
The mini-episode of “The Shield” costs between $500,000 and $1 million to produce, compared to the $2.5 million full-episode cost. The money comes out of the network’s marketing budget. The talent gets paid their normal per-episode fee on a pro-rated basis.
It’s money well spent, Mr. Landgraf said.
“As it turns out, it is an enormously valuable piece of material to create partnerships of the type we’ve created with Anheuser-Busch and Bud,” Mr. Landgraf said. “Also, it’s a gift to the fan. It’s a way of not only giving them material that they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten, but it’s a way of reminding them where the story is and getting them reinvested in the show as we’re leading up to the [season] premiere.”
As with the “Rescue Me” mini-episode last year, the “Shield” episode bridges the gap between last season and the new one that starts in April.
The episode picks up with the funeral of Det. Curtis Lemansky, who was killed at the end of last season. He is remembered by his colleagues in flashbacks shot specially for this episode. Lemansky is played by actor Kenny Johnson.
“We actually paid Kenny through the entirety of [the upcoming] season six and had the right to use him, but did not. We used him for this,” Mr. Landgraf said.
The special episode will never appear on FX, but Mr. Landgraf said that while it will enhance the experience viewers have, you don’t have to have watched it to follow the plot.
After the show appears on Bud.TV for four weeks, it will appear on AOL and a variety of digital sites, as well as on cable video on demand and promotional channels on satellite TV. Before it airs, an Anheuser-Busch commercial will air.
Anheuser-Busch declined to comment.
“We’re going to throw a lot of audience their way and I think they’re going to do a lot to promote our show,” Mr. Landgraf said.