Web sites are migrating to TV in search of synergy
The Discovery Channel announced on June 24 that it would renew the Web spinoff show Epicurious for a second season, proving that the Web can give as well as take when it comes to content.
The contract renewal may also be the starting signal for a passel of Web titles jumping offline and into the roiling waters of TV. The spinoffs aren’t just limiting themselves to a mere 30 minutes here and there; in one case, a Web site is spawning a 24/7 cable network. The days of shovelware are over–this stuff has legs.
The transformation underscores growing relationships between all sorts of media. Epicurious, the Web site, was itself the mutated love child of two august Condƒ Nast publications, Bon Appetit and Gourmet. “The magazines were riches we had to work with but not the starting and ending point,” says Sarah Chubb, director of CondƒNet, of the site’s October 1995 launch.
The resulting Epicurious.com did so well that in October 1998, Epicurious TV launched as two weekly half-hour shows on Discovery, its passage greased by Condƒ Nast’s hefty holdings in the cable network.
Just as the site lifted little content directly from the magazines, neither did Epicurious TV repurpose content from the Web site. “We made a TV show that we think is good television as opposed to thinking, what part of the Web site could go there?” Chubb says.
Did the television show lure Epicurious regulars away from their computers and onto their couches? Chubb insists, “The show cues you constantly that you don’t have to scribble down all the recipes and tips because it’s there for you online.”
What about the magazines? Haven’t they become de trop? Not at all, claims Chubb–they’re stronger than ever. “We pulled a lot of new subscriptions to the magazines of people who weren’t even in our [direct mail] database.”
The tally is 2 million unique users a month on Epicurious, 300 to 350 new subscriptions a month each to Bon Appetit and Gourmet, and 300,000 to 450,000 households watching each episode of the TV show.
Another entrant in the contest to convert an online brand into an off-line property is Columbia TriStar Interactive. The unit of the entertainment giant started with two free-standing Web sites supporting its parent’s soap opera properties, The Young & the Restless and Days of Our Lives. It then grew into the Web powerhouse SoapCity, a site that, two years after its launch, covers all of the daytime dramas, augmented with news and features. The next step is the launch of a 24-hour cable channel, to premiere in the first quarter of next year.
“Over the past couple of years, we found that people wanted to get more info than just daily updates,” says Mary Coller, SoapCity producer.
Though different crews will be working independently on the cable and Web programming, Coller says Web content crossover is a possibility. “Video streaming is moving so much faster than anyone imagined that it’s certainly not out of the question.”
Linda Keeler, CTI vice president and general manager, agrees with Chubb that the tie-ins between cable and the Web are a win-win situation. “The Web site can create a feedback loop and generate excitement and get the word out [about cable.] The cable channel can direct people to do more interactive things back on the Web site.”
Companies that specialize in 3-D animation are also having success moving some of their online content to various forms of TV. Such a shift was always in the business plan of Los Angeles-based Brilliant Digital Entertainment, which launched in 1996. The company, which has been producing Multipath Movies using a proprietary 3-D modeling animation technology since last year, wanted to be able to release its content on the Net, DVD, home video, CD-ROM and through broadcast.
Its “Webisodes” are available free and through subscription on its www.multipathmovies.com site. But its TV dreams began to be realized in January, when Kaleidoscope Media Group, Los Angeles, signed on as broadcast and cable distributor for Gravity Angels, Brilliant’s two-hour animated science fiction feature about a band of convicts banished to one of Jupiter’s moons.
Gravity was previewed at the National Association of Television Producers and Executives show in New Orleans; it made the rounds again in May at the MIP television market in Cannes, France, where Spring International of Taiwan signed on to offer two versions of the property on its Sun Movie Channel. A linear animation will run on the station’s analog cable channel, while subscribers to its digital channel will be able to choose multiple story paths.
As U.S. stations move toward digital television, Brilliant president Kevin Bermeister says, “They’ve been fascinated by the fact that Gravity is a property that can deliver entertainment online as well as on broadcast.”
Brilliant has also signed a deal with Redwood City, Calif.-basedExcite Home to offer access to Webisodes through the growing broadband network.
Traditional broadcast programs are also showing increasing eagerness to cuddle up with Web animation. When San Francisco’s Pulse Entertainment pitched the idea of a “virtual Jay Leno” to The Tonight Show producers, they were hoping that virtual Jay would make appearances on NBC.com; instead the animated character became a segment on the broadcast show. In the skit, the real Leno gets sucked into his computer, where the virtual Jay takes over, wandering through the Web and eventually landing at the site of Intel–a major sponsor of NBC.com.
Pulse has signed to do five more segments for the broadcast show and the Web; CEO Fred Angelopoulos says he’s talking with many other studios and producers.
Then there’s the case of American Interactive Media (AIME). The New York-based company is designing its on- and offline properties to complement each other when they finally meet in the middle, via interactive television. ComedyNet went live in May of 1998, produced by TVOD Networks, a subsidiary of AIME. The site includes streaming video shorts of stand-up comics’ routines. It will launch as a 24-hour basic cable network in the fourth quarter.
“We’re not building Web sites, we’re building Web networks,” says Bill Zaccheo, executive vice president of AIME. “In the first phase, the Internet is a place for us to brand our network. As we evolve and become a cable network, the Internet becomes a place to test new concepts and help support and market the cable network.” Early next year, AIME will bring its CrimeBeat Web site to cable, followed by Romanceland in the third or fourth quarter. That’s synergy and that’s entertainment.
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