When NBC Universal announced in January that its Trio channel was moving to a broadband-only platform as it slowly phased itself out of the nation’s cable box, it could be construed as a last gasp for a channel that never reached market saturation.
But as established cable players like MTV and Comedy Central are investing heavily in their own broadband offerings, it could also be perceived as a golden opportunity.
Jason Klarman, SVP of marketing for Trio's sister channel Bravo, says that Trio moved online, in part, because it had the chance for a bigger footprint online.
"Broadband is in about 50 million homes, while Trio was at best in 20 million homes," Klarman says. While a company like NBCU needs to do a lot of wheeling and dealing to make sure that its cable channels are offered by different cable providers across the country, TrioTV.com will be available to anyone with a broadband connection. Other Trio properties being spun out to broadband channels is Brilliantbutcancelled.com and OutzoneTV.com, all of which will be linked from BravoTV.com, the online portal of Bravo.
Klarman says that Bravo's hit show Project Runway best exemplifies the power of providing fans with more content online. Project Runway-themed Web pages, featuring blogs and clips, have had 50 million page views alone, and the season is only half-finished.
"Consumer are dictating how they want to consume content; they want it everywhere and anywhere," Klarman says. "It's up to the content providers to create the variety of platforms to serve them."
He adds: "Television shows are no longer islands. For them to live, they need to have a viral presence on the web in some way."
"Overall our goal, as a brand, is to make sure we give our viewers programming wherever they are," says Michelle Ganeless, EVP and GM for Comedy Central. "We know how much they use new technology, so we wanted to make sure we were there."
Comedy Central is "there" through its broadband channel Motherload. Ganeless notes that more than 60% of its network-viewing audience now has broadband Internet access.
Content on the Motherload site includes clips of shows like Mind of Mencia and The Colbert Report, original short-form clips, a directory of stand-up comedians, and archives of shows no longer running on television, like TV Funhouse.
"We had this conversation; not just about Motherload, but about wireless, iTunes, and free versus paid content," and whether a push online would hurt the television "mother ship," Ganeless says. "At the end of the day, we don't think it will. They're going to watch it on television; and, if they catch a clip of South Park online [that they like], they'll be back next week to watch when the new episode airs."
The online community's power to disseminate television broadcast media after its airs is not lost on Comedy Central, as a video clip of Daily Show host Jon Stewart chiding Tucker Carlson on CNN's Crossfire found its second life online.
"Particularly with the Daily Show and The Colbert Report, you can find the headlines and major pieces either the next day or that night," Ganeless says. "With [specials] like the Pamela Anderson roast, we made sure it gets on there as fast as it can."
Amy Doyle, SVP, music and talent for MTV, says the company has realized that its viewers want a completely ubiquitous music experience.
"It's an on-demand audience wanting things on their terms," Doyle says, adding that some just want a 30-minute version and others want all the things that didn't make the broadcast cut. Recently, MTV teased a new video on a Friday show before it debuted the following Monday, but allowed viewers to see the video as much as they wanted to online before the broadcast premiere.
"By using one to taking the audience back and forth, it's complementary rather than cannibalizing," Doyle says. "It's also a great place for us to experiment on a short-form basis; to see what could be taken further as an idea that could work on television."
Tina Imm, VH1's VP of digital media, says that the popularity of its Vspot broadband channel proves that VH1's demographic, generally in its 30s, are as excited about ubiquitous content as younger consumers. Imm says that its demographic has both high uptake in broadband usage and plenty of disposable income, two major criteria for a successful targeted broadband channel.
"Between Vspot and our mobile properties, VH1 has made a huge effort to understand that this is what our audience wants," Imm says.
"At VH1, we fully embraced this imitative wholeheartedly," Imm says, pointing to how a season for The Surreal Life, which places former and B-list stars in a Real World-style house, debuted on Vspot before its cable airing.
Vspot, she says, provides the production to extend storylines, take viewers behind the scenes, and provide content in a non-linear, on-demand format. Imm points out that the transfer works just as well online to on air. One of VH1's most buzzed-about cable programs, Web Junk 20, takes viral online videos and shows them on a television show.
Imm says that Vspot, which is advertiser-supported, provides marketers with new, unique sponsorship opportunities. While Comedy Central's Motherload clips load, viewers see ads from Nokia and the US Air Force.
"Just like any new initiative, [Vspot] is opening up how we program and how marketers approach [us]," Imm says.
"It's valuable to reach the consumer in a variety of places," Klarman says, speaking of online marcomms opportunities like sponsorship and advertising. "BravoTV.com has over 1 million unique visitors a moth. That's of high value to marketers. It's a great way to reach a valued consumer."
MTV's Doyle says the proposition is simple for marketers.
"We have totally acknowledged they're a multitasking music culture, and we're getting them wherever they are," Doyle says. "If you think of us that way and if you use us that way, you will get to reach a very dedicated music audience."
As for Trio, it's too early to tell whether the online move will be a success. But Comedy Central's Ganeless counts herself as one of Trio's rabid fanbase.
"It has amazing programming with not a lot of resources," Ganeless says. "They're trying to find how to best to reach their fanbase."
Fox says that, in some respects, going online a good solution to Trio's distributions problems.
"Through a broadband connection, anyone who wants to watch Trio, can," Fox says. "If you're a fan, you will go online and find it."