Coming of Age in Digital Era

May 7, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Joining a rush by cable networks to produce revenue on the Web, Nat Geo Channel is launching NGC Wild!, an Internet network that will feature a new original full-length show each week, plus dozens of nature clips.

The emergence of NGC Wild! and other Web channels reflects networks’ drive to draw viewers and advertising dollars by pairing traditional offerings with Internet fare. Heading into this week’s National Cable & Telecommunications Association show in Las Vegas, executives said the industry has reached an inflection point.

“There’s not going to be such a thing as a pure linear network anymore,” said Jeff Shell, president of Comcast Programming Group, who has pushed all of Comcast’s networks into VOD and broadband. Comcast has launched its newest networks — PBS Kids Sprout, Fear.net and Exercise TV — through on-demand and online, rather than as traditional TV channels.

Likewise, ESPN, Turner Entertainment, CNN, MTV, Scripps and other networks are all pushing digital offerings. World Wrestling Entertainment, which launched a broadband network in February, said it has already streamed more than 6.2 million episodes of its shows online.

The push by cable networks to capitalize on marketers’ demand for online video to sponsor comes as the Web changes business plans for both cable providers and networks. For cable operators, high-speed data and Internet telephone businesses are growing faster than their traditional TV businesses.

At the same time, cable networks are spending more time and attention on programming for online, on-demand and mobile venues.

Digital advertising to support those channels was a question mark at first, but now it appears those ads will constitute a meaningful part of revenue, Mr. Shell said.

Mr. Shell doesn’t see broadband channels working without some cable and satellite carriage, at least on VOD.

“You can throw them up on the Web, but you’re never going to have any kind of a fee-based model, so you’re going to have to live 100 percent on advertising,” he said. “From a revenue perspective, I don’t see how that works.”

Putting It Together

Dave Cassaro, president of Comcast network sales, said that while others are just talking about launching digital businesses, his company already can put together a variety of digital technologies—from VOD to broadband to linear to podcasting and mobile video — to aggregate enough viewers to interest advertisers.

Mr. Shell said Comcast will be launching more digital networks.

“We probably have 25 to 30 other ideas,” he said. “We want to make sure these are off to the races first before we go with the next batch.”

Nat Geo Channel has more broadband channels on the drawing board in its other core programming areas, said Steve Schiffman, acting general manager of the channel, which is owned by News Corp. and National Geographic Television & Film.

“We think it’s critical as we are expanding the National Geographic Channel brand,” said Mr. Schiffman, who expects to promote the broadband channel from the network Web site, and to promote the net and Web site with the broadband channel.

Wild can be accessed at NGCWild.com. Wild programming also is being distributed by Internet video company Joost.

Nat Geo is offering to co-promote the broadband channel with cable operators and Web service providers.

Michael Hayes, senior VP/managing director of initiative interactive at Nat Geo, said, “When you talk about professionally generated video content [online], then [supply] is tight, and that should be to the advantage of these broadband networks, which means CPMs [cost per thousand viewers] will stay high.”

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