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At ABC, Original Shows Hit Web

Mar 26, 2007  •  Post A Comment

ABC is trying its hand at producing original Web series for the first time by turning ABC.com into an outlet for shows made expressly for online play.

Late last week ABC.com, whose video offerings to this point consist of ABC network series and related fare, premiered its first original series created for the Web. The project, called “Voicemail,” was developed in a yearlong cycle mirroring the process of creating traditional television.

ABC’s foray into Web originals comes as the networks wage war over both viewers and copyright issues with popular online video aggregators such as YouTube.

Last week NBC Universal joined forces with News Corp. to create a new Web business that will feature their TV shows, movies and clips, in a move designed to put pressure on Web video leader YouTube.

The partnership comes on the heels of Viacom’s $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube, which claims the site draws its tens of millions of viewers largely by offering video owned by others, including Viacom.

ABC, however, has stayed out of the YouTube battles, neither joining its media brethren in creating consortiums nor lobbing lawsuits at YouTube.

Instead, ABC has focused on building its own site as a destination, first with prime-time episodes and now with the addition of original Web series.

ABC.com attracted 8.5 million unique viewers to its Web site in February.

“Voicemail” is “the first ABC.com production, our first original short-form series and our first attempt to create something not on air,” said Bruce Gersh, senior VP of business development for ABC Entertainment and ABC Television Studio.

ABC began promoting the show last week on its home page and via a viral marketing campaign.

The network posted the first five episodes on YouTube, MySpace, Metacafe and other video destinations that draw the 18- to 24-year-old crowd the show targets.

Saving Messages

The show’s creator Michael Wilde conceived the idea after he saved 3,000 of his own voicemail messages for 10 years, including those from a crazy girlfriend, a nagging relative and late night out follow-ups.

Mr. Wilde shot a number of short episodes and landed a meeting with the network. He then loaded the episodes on his iPod and brought them to the network.

“It was the first time we were pitched a show on an iPod,” Mr. Gersh said. “It was completely relatable. Everybody has messages left on their machine in some way, shape or form.”

ABC.com put “Voicemail” into a development process similar to on-air shows: researching the concept, bringing Mr. Wilde on board as co-creator and casting an actor, Ezra Godding, as “Mike.”

A storyline was then created behind each voice mail. The messages play in the background of each minute-long episode.

ABC executives will determine their commitment to creating more short-form series based on the success of “Voicemail.”

They also will consider whether “Voicemail” or any other original made for ABC.com might have the potential to be turned into a full-length, traditional TV show on a case-by-case basis, just like any other project that inspires ABC series.

Two to three new episodes of “Voicemail” will roll out each week on ABC.com over the next 10 to 12 weeks.

ABC hopes to build buzz organically, letting Web viewers find the episodes on ABC.com and other sites, said Alexis Rapo, VP for ABC Digital.

“We are just sort of an average Joe in this approach, just like everyone else is posting and we are taking advantage of the tools,” she said.

There is no advertiser tied to the show yet, but ABC.com is talking to ad partners.

ABC has set up MySpace pages for the “Voicemail” characters:

Episodes have been posted to the following popular video-sharing sites so far: