WB Relaunches as Web Video Site

Nearly two years after The WB was dissolved as part of the formation of the CW, the former youth-aimed network is coming back from the dead. Just not on TV.

As first reported by Mediaweek March 10, Warner Brothers Television Group announced on Monday (April 28) that it would launch TheWB.com, a new free, video-centric Web site that will become a home for various former WB hit series, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Everwood, along with several original shows as well as network hits from the company’s vast library, including former NBC Must See TV staple Friends. During a video segment shown to reporters at the W Hotel in New York, a narrator said “the TV network that spoke to a generation is back,” – however – “The next great network will not be televised.”

Besides launching TheWB.com–which will initially roll out as a private beta site shortly before going public in late August- the company also unveiled KidsWb.com, a similar Web reincarnation of the once popular but much scaled back kids programming block. That site, which is already live, houses videos and games featuring classic Hanna-Barbera animated characters (Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones). Eventually, the site will become the launching pad for multiple kids-aimed virtual worlds, including the comic book-centric DC HeroZone, which is being created in conjunction with toy manufacturer Mattel.

But the attention grabber from Monday’s presentation was clearly the reborn WB, particularly as The CW network struggles mightily in the ratings, and many have speculated that a new Warner Web destination could serve as the foundation for a future cable or broadcast network–particularly were the The CW to fail.

Bruce Rosenblum, president, Warner Bros. Television Group, said that he hadn’t heard any such cable rumors, and that the new WB site should not be viewed as a sign that any executives had lost faith in The CW. “We are fully committed to the CW,” he said. “This is not a reflection of the CW at all. We’re all on the same page.”

That page likely lists the numerous ways in which the media habits of The WB and CW’s young audiences are changing rapidly. Thus, the new site will not be the only place that users can stream WB classics like Gilmore Girls and recent teen-driven hits like The O.C., as Warner Bros announced an elaborate partnership with Facebook which will allow users to access all of TheWB.com’s content on the popular social networking site. In addition, TheWB.com’s content will be distributed on AOL, Comcast’s Fancast.com, MySpace and multiple mobile platforms.

Thus, users “will not have to type in thewb.com and come to our URL,” explained Craig Erwich, executive vp, Warner Horizon Television. “We want they to go where they are and make it as easy as possible for them.”

They also want to embrace teens and twentysomethings’ urges to create and play amateur editor. Fans will be able to search on the new site for specific scenes and quotes from shows (such as Friends’ Joey’s popular “how you doing” greeting) and then create mash-up clips.

Besides carving up old stuff, WB executives hope the site becomes well known as a destination for new original programming. As Rosenblum put it, “It’s our belief we’re in the multiplatform story telling business, and we’re no longer in the television business.”

To deliver on that mantra, the site has committed to an original short form series from Josh Schwartz (Chuck, The O.C.) set in a fictional rock club, as well as a reality series from Laguna Beach creator Gary Auerbach titled Rich/Girl Poor Girl. Also on the seven-series docket is Sorority Fever, a teen soap being developed by the creative team behind the similar, Michael Eisner-commissioned Prom Queen, as well as producer McG (Charlie’s Angels).

Erwich emphasized that these new series were specifically geared to live and thrive on the Web only. “This is not an incubator for cheap development,” he said. “The Internet is its own medium. We’re not trying to save money here.”

Indeed, the goal will be to make money, said Rosenblum. Besides landing a commitment from Mattel, McDonald’s and Johnson & Johnson have signed on as charter sponsors.

Meanwhile, as Warner Bros. turns back to its recent past and leverages its extensive TV lineup, it likely signals the beginning of the end of AOL’s In2TV–at least in its current form. That video channel, launched in conjunction with Warner Bros. in 2006 around full length episodes of classics like Wonder Woman and Welcome Back Carter, may undergo a “rethinking and a re-imagining” said Craig Hunegs, Warner Bros.’ executive vp for business development.