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Rough Start for Bud.TV

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LOS ANGELES Bud.TV may be leaving a sour aftertaste for Anheuser-Busch.

The branded digital entertainment network has seen the fizz from its Super Bowl kickoff evaporate quickly. It averaged just 253,000 visitors in February, its first month online, according to data from ComScore Media Metrix. A-B marketing execs reportedly projected reaching 2-3 million visitors per month by year's end.

It's an underwhelming start for a highly anticipated $30 million initiative designed to put Bud.TV on the same playing field as entertainment companies online. Aimed at male twentysomethings, Bud.TV launched Feb. 4, after Super Bowl XLI, featuring a collection of short-form comedic programming with Hollywood cachet from the likes of Kevin Spacey's Triggerstreet Productions and Matt Damon's LivePlanet Productions.

Sources also indicated that a last-minute marketing decision to concentrate online promotional efforts around the Super Bowl on sites where viewers could revisit Budweiser commercials that aired during the big game came at the expense of Bud.TV, which didn't get as much exposure as it needed.

Tony Ponturo, vp, global media and sports marketing at Anheuser-Busch, attributed the sluggish traffic to the controversial age-verification system necessary to access the site.

"The first week after Super Bowl, the site got an average of 20,000 visits a day, but only about 800-1,000 a day were registering—we think because of the registration process," Ponturo said.

Last month, attorneys general from 23 states petitioned A-B concerning Bud.TV's age-verification system, complaining that it wasn't enough to weed out underage viewers. Meanwhile, critics have noted that the system is a barrier for site entry that has dampened its viral potential.

The site had the advantage of promotion during the high-rated game, including electronic billboards that plugged the URL during the third and fourth quarters.

But Bud.TV may have been hamstrung by minimal online promotion coming out of the Super Bowl, when insiders had to choose between throwing their weight behind the new venture or multiple sites where the company's Super Bowl commercials could be reviewed, including Budweiser.com and YouTube. To avoid misrepresenting Bud.TV as just another place to find Super Bowl ads, the company decided after much internal debate to put its marketing support elsewhere. Consequently, the slighted site missed out on what could have been a key boost.

Banner ads have since proved to be a boon to Bud.TV; an online promo blitz that hit during Presidents' Day weekend lifted the number of site registrants to nearly 8,000 per day over the following week, according to Ponturo, who estimates nearly double that amount visited the site on those days. He said the site's traffic has leveled off at 15,000 in its third week, but now only roughly one-third are registering.

Bud.TV has attracted attention for portending a paradigm shift for online media, allowing advertisers to pitch directly to consumers with their own programming, including such brand-integrated series as Replaced by a Chimp and Truly Famous.

Alex Woodson in New York contributed to this report.