Brand forays into media could elevate PR

"Bud." "Weis." "Er." "Whassup!" Are these the essential sentiments of the future of the media?

"Bud." "Weis." "Er." "Whassup!" Are these the essential sentiments of the future of the media?

Well, much of the recent history of the US entertainment media has been an industrywide race to reach the lowest common denominator through as many different platforms as possible. So perhaps an Internet TV channel brought to us by Budweiser is the perfect embodiment of the next big thing.

Bud.TV is a venture that has attracted attention for being what may be the first-ever full-fledged commitment by a major brand to morph its marketing department into an editorial content provider.

Budweiser's online network is expressly not going to be an advertisement-infested site that uses cheap gags as an excuse to plaster logos all over your screen. Instead, it promises to produce actual shows - original comedies, science fiction, drama, and reality television - and become a media destination for the same demographic that already drinks its beer and laughs at its commercials.

Such a commitment does not come cheap. Bud.TV is expected to cost more than $30 million in its first year alone. And it is far from clear that any Internet video content site (outside of YouTube-like file sharers) can justify that annual budget - much less a site wholly owned and branded by a beer company.

The entire initiative is one that some in the PR industry have been pushing as the future of marketing communications. Nick Ragone, SVP and director of the New York communications media strategy network at Ketchum, is an evangelist when it comes to the type of company-into-media-entity shift that Anheuser-Busch is undertaking.

"Budweiser makes beer, and Cadbury Schweppes, my client, makes soda, and Kodak makes cameras. But they're all going to be content providers in the future," Ragone says. "This is going to be the big case study that everyone is going to watch... if it goes well, every company is now going to be in the content-provider space. It's another way to circumvent the traditional media."

In fact, the "traditional media" should be hoping with all of its might for Bud.TV to be a colossal failure. If the corporations with the largest marketing budgets find that it's more effective to control not just the advertising time they buy on regular networks, but all of the time on their own branded networks, then it doesn't take a futurist to figure out that the drain on traditional advertising budgets could be significant.

And TV networks should worry the most: Not only do they have to worry about losing Anheuser-Busch marketing dollars if Bud.TV is successful, but they also have to worry about a new competitor draining viewers from them online. Company executives have said they hope to draw 2 million to 3 million viewers per month to the new site - a number large enough to cause a noticeable hole in a TV show's weekly ratings.

Then again, if these new corporate content-providing ventures fail on either of two fronts, they will fail totally.

First, they may find that such baldly brand-driven media simply does not appeal to the public enough to draw a significant audience, which would render the entire project a waste of money.

Second, they could be cursed by succeeding in drawing a large audience to content that bears little overt commercial messaging, only to find that the approach was so subtle it failed to drive any business to the parent company. That outcome would make Bud.TV, in essence, a very expensive corporate employment project for comedy writers.

But if it works out, other companies will surely follow suit, and PR agencies stand to reap a good portion of the money that once would have flowed into media companies' pockets.

"I think it's great for PR agencies because, traditionally, that's all been marketing dollars," Ragone says. "This is as much about PR as it is marketing because it's content creation."

That's Whasssssssssupppppp.

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