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Digital Media More Important Than Ever at Annual Bazaar

Feb 3, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The National Association of Television Program Executives’ annual conference left most attendees with more questions than answers last week, about the future of everything from the event itself to the local station business to the production of television pilots.
The only thing everyone could be sure of is that they need to take digital media more seriously than ever. Production shops in particular, including Endemol USA and RDF USA, used the show as an opportunity to reinvent themselves in a digital image.
RDF, the production house behind Fox’s “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” and A&E’s “The Two Coreys,” plans to announce this week that it’s creating online and mobile games in conjunction with those two series, marking the first time RDF has built games for its programs. The gaming initiative is part of RDF’s new mandate to grow revenue by creating more digital properties for its shows, said Max Benator, the company’s head of digital, during an interview at the convention.
“The new model of a production shop is, once you grow to become a larger producer, you can’t survive off the margins of a budget for a show. You need to make it a brand and develop digital properties,” he said.
In the “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” game, online players have the chance to upload a video of themselves singing for the chance to appear as a contestant on the show. The game will run on Fox.com. The mobile game for “The Two Coreys” should be available when the second season airs this spring.
In addition to developing digital extensions for existing shows, RDF, along with its network partners, is creating shows for the Web. That’s partly because both cable and broadcast networks are looking to the Web as a new source of development, a process that may accelerate if NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker’s vision to overhaul pilot season comes to fruition. Mr. Benator said RDF recently finished production of an online show called “Fender Bender Strassen” for ComedyCentral.com.
“We will go into TV production if it’s successful,” he said.
Then there’s production company Endemol USA, which announced last week it has partnered with popular video site Metacafe to produce an online late-night game show that will premiere in the spring. The show, “Buzzed,” will feature impromptu, man-on-the-street interviews with bar and nightclub patrons answering general interest and pop culture trivia questions as they leave late-night hot spots around the country.
Endemol previously has produced original broadband content in tandem with sites such as Break, AOL and Comcast. With the new deal, Endemol is sending a signal that digital media is as important to it for content as traditional platforms.
“We absolutely see ourselves as a complete multiplatform company,” said Chris Gunn, director of partnerships at Endemol, during an interview at NATPE. “All our shows we leverage across platforms. The Internet is bigger than TV as a medium in reach.”
Of course, the budgets for the TV shows Endemol produces, most notably “Deal or No Deal,” are much higher than they are for Internet shows. Therein lies the Web opportunity: The upside on the Internet is tremendous. Online video ad dollars should reach $1.4 billion this year and hit $4.3 billion in 2011, according to eMarketer.
Brand marketers’ budgets are starting to shift to digital, Mr. Gunn said. However, “Buzzed” may face some risks in landing advertisers, since the show likely will feature consumers who are inebriated.
Endemol Senior VP of Digital Media and Branded Entertainment Jon Vlassopulos said the show, now in pre-production, won’t promote drinking and is already attracting advertisers.
“We plan to launch many more advertiser-friendly formats like our show ‘Buzzed’ with Metacafe over the coming year, providing advertisers a cost-effective way to better leverage their online dollars and connect with entertainment brands and their audience in a new and exciting way.” he said.
Some advertisers, like packaged-goods companies, are still wary of certain types of Internet video, Michael Hayes, senior VP of interactive at Initiative North America, said during a panel session at NATPE. However, others are willing to take a chance with edgier fare, he added.
Whether consumers will support such Web shows, especially when they are similar to TV fare, is another matter. Game shows and trivia shows are commonplace on traditional TV, which could help or hinder “Buzzed.”
“It will be interesting to see if the power-holders plan on expanding programming concepts or continue to replicate programming already out there, and whether or not the media will give them a ‘cool’-factor review just because they are switching platforms for existing programming concepts,” said Thatcher Kamin, an online and new-media producer with independent station WCIU-TV in Chicago.
Internet video consumption has radically changed television business models, perhaps none more acutely than that of local broadcast stations. Local news viewership has been declining rapidly and ad revenues continue to shrink as viewers defect to the Web.
Companies with a vested interest in local TV, such as NBC Local Media and Titan TV, are trying to adapt.
Titan TV is best known for its online program guide, which is used by more than 1,000 local station Web sites to offer TV listings. In a bid to remain relevant to stations, Titan TV said at NATPE it has overhauled the listings to include original online video. The new service includes a video player that will connect and play the existing news and weather video on TV station sites, and will include syndicated content TitanTV produces for the Web, such as comedy sketches, movie reviews and green-centric short programming, TitanTV offers the video player for free and makes money on an ad share.
“TV stations are not in the battle right now on the Web,” said Mark Effron, president of Titan TV. “TV stations need to do a better job of getting people to come to their sites. News, weather, traffic are only drivers when there is a big story.”
Already, TitanTV’s station clients have begun to transition to the new guide and video player, Mr. Effron said.
TitanTV isn’t alone in betting on entertainment content for local stations. Last week, the local stations division of NBC Universal bought new-media content producer LX.tv in a deal that calls for the new-media shop to produce original entertainment content for all NBC-owned stations and other local properties.

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