NBC, CBS Prep Originals for Online

Dec 14, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Even though NBC has been wracked by huge layoffs and a tanking economy, the network’s digital division will start shooting a pilot this week for an online late-night talk show, one of nine planned Web shows for 2009.
And NBC isn’t the only network pursuing Web originals for the new year; CBS also is gearing up to launch original Web projects in 2009.
NBC is developing four Web shows for next year with advertisers already on board, and will pitch another five digital series to marketers starting in January. That five-pack includes the online late-night talk show, which will be hosted by a woman and targeted to female viewers.
Meanwhile, CBS has at least two Web originals in the hopper for 2009, including a Web companion series for the midseason replacement show “Harper’s Island.”
At first blush, an aggressive Web-original strategy might seem foolish given the contracting ad market and broader concerns about the long-term health of traditional media companies. But the focus on Web originals at CBS and NBC is rooted in what has become a profitable ad format for Web video—brand integration. Many advertisers are eager to back branded Web shows because ads that are baked into the content are DVR-proof.
Also, Web shows are faster and easier to produce than on-air programs, which lets programmers and marketers make quick changes if need be, said Anthony Soohoo, senior VP and general manager of entertainment for CBS Interactive. “The Web allows us to nimbly adjust our scripts based on what the audience is seeing, and it lets the sponsors adapt to the needs of the audience,” he said. “Advertisers are always looking to extend their brands in new innovative ways, and Web originals let a brand be associated with a storyline and have some type of voice in the creative process.”
When CBS created its Web original “Novel Adventures,” which ran online last month, General Motors’ Saturn car was integrated into each episode. CBS likely will strike a brand integration deal for the “Harper’s Island” Web project, Mr. Soohoo said.
NBC has taken the same approach with its digital studio and often develops shows on behalf of marketers, said Cameron Death, VP of digital content for NBC Entertainment. NBC.com won’t launch a Web show until it has advertisers on board. “We don’t just greenlight willy-nilly, but our mission is to find the brands for these shows to finance production,” said Mr. Death.
The studio’s biggest production so far was the fall release of Web hit “Gemini Division” starring Rosario Dawson. NBC signed deals with Acura, Intel, Cisco, UPS and Microsoft to sponsor that show.
Advertisers like the brand-integration ad model for Web originals. “Advertisers will definitely embrace broadcast networks’ original programming for the Web,” said Scott Lackey, co-founder and strategic director of Jugular Advertising in New York. “Right now, it’s all about overcoming all the various means of circumventing advertising, from mute buttons to TiVo.”
Other networks aren’t so keen on originals. ABC scaled back its original Web show production to concentrate instead on short online videos related to prime-time series such as “Ugly Betty” and “Scrubs.” Those attract bigger audiences and more advertiser interest than originals, said Alexis Rapo, VP of digital media for ABC Entertainment.
At CWTV.com, the focus is on existing network shows. “The site is a digital extension of our network brand, and that generally means our shows and our stars,” said Paul Hewitt, spokesman for the network. “So if the viewers want more about ‘Gossip Girl’ or ‘90210’ or ‘One Tree Hill’ or ‘Supernatural,’ that’s what we provide online.”
Many of the Web shows NBC is developing for 2009 will be targeted to a female audience, letting NBC tap into distribution opportunities on its Web properties including iVillage and the Web sites for cable networks Oxygen and Bravo, Mr. Death said.
All five broadcast networks continue to offer most of their prime-time shows online.

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