Warner Bros. gets serious about web 2.0

10 09 2007

Following last week’s news about Warner Bros. online video deal with ABC, comes this coverage in the New York Times, reporting that the studio is to ramp up the creation of original programming for the web, marking a significant change of strategy.

Warners had previously hedged its bets on getting advertisers to take on the risk of funding such content, but the new initiative means that it will dig into its own pocket to get a slate of 24 new web formats into production. But the sums involved are still small beer compared to the traditional side of the business: the two dozen new titles will cost US $3 million, equivalent to funding required for an hour of prime time TV drama.

The new slate includes mini-movies, games and episodic TV shows such as:

  • The Jeannie Tate Show — a 10-parter about a neurotic mother, who presents her own TV talk show from her minivan;
  • A puppet comedy for grown-ups, created by the Jim Henson Company;
  • An online dating game, from the producer of Gilmore Girls;
  • An animated spin-off from The Wizard of Oz;
  • Viral, a tongue-in-cheek mockumentary from Joey Mandarino and David Young, charting the fortunes of a studio trying to come up with the next big online hit (think Seinfeld for the digital age);
  • And an, as yet, to be disclosed project from Joseph McGinty Nichol, one of the directors of Charlie’s Angels.

The studio has also announced its answer to Second Life: T-Works, an immersive web experience based on its Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics franchises, fusing elements of a virtual world, social networking and games. The new site, launching in Spring 2008, will run full-length episodes of cartoon classics, such as Bugs Bunny, Scooby Doo and The Flintstones alongside the new web-exclusive short-form content outlined above.

Users will be able to create their own avatars, based on Warners’ toon characters, as well as video mash-ups and profiles. Significantly, users will also be able to embed material both on third party sites, such as social networks, and on their own desktops.

Online TV: mind the gap(s)

8 09 2007

Warner Bros. has finally relented to pressure from Walt Disney Co.’s ABC network and granted on-demand streaming rights for shows it produces for the latter, the strongest suggestion yet that the nets are sensitive to consumer feedback over why some shows are offered for online catch-up, while others aren’t.

Under the terms of the two-year deal, ABC will stream Warner-made shows via ABC.com and keep all ad revenue during the first year. In year two, Warner retains all revenue and gets to offer the same shows on a download-to-own basis, for on-demand streaming and as DVD box sets. Is it just me thinking that ABC ended up with the better side of the deal?

Since its launch in September 2006, the player has streamed all or part of 134 million episodes, ABC data shows. ABC was the first U.S. broadcast network to offer its prime time shows for free on the ad-supported player.

The most interesting part of the deal, however, is that in year two, all of the shows offered by Warners will continue to be branded in ABC’s colours, with viewers given pointers back to ABC’s site.

Blockbuster bags Movielink

10 08 2007

Blockbuster has acuired Movielink LLC, the online movie downloads service established by five major Hollywood studios in 2002. Terms were not disclosed.

The Wall Street Journal claims a source familiar with the deal put the acquisition price tag at “less than $20 million”. paidContent puts it lower still: “we do know that there is a surprisingly low cash amount involved (much lower than WSJ’s)” 

Update 15 Aug 07: According to a filing yesterday with the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission, Blockbuster paid just $6.6 million in an all-cash deal.

Studio founders including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. are believed to have lavished $100 million on the service, which failed to capture public imagination as a consequence of its owners’ failure to back it up with significant marketing effort.

The acquisition bolsters Blockbuster’s online video services and will likely put troubled competitor Netflix under even greater pressure.

VOD a fillip for Xbox Live

5 07 2007

Good to see more content providers experimenting with reaching young audiences who may prefer to watch movies or TV via a games console, as profiled in this NY Times piece.

Xbox Live marketplace

The Xbox Live Marketplace offers around 2,000 hours of downloadable content: a mix of download-to-own, download-to-rent (US $2 to $6 for a 24-hr viewing window) and free. contentonce downloaded, can be viewed for up to 24 hours. There’s some HD content, as well as exclusive stuff: a premiere episode of South Park was downloaded 400K times, when offered.

Among Microsoft’s content partners on the service are Paramount Pictures, New Line, Warner Bros., MTV, CBS, A&E and ABC.

“It’s where entertainment delivery is headed,” says Anita Frazier of industry analysts NPD Group. “It’s a natural evolution for any of these boxes, whether it’s a computer or an Xbox or a PlayStation 3 or Apple TV to deliver a variety of content and whether it’s games or music or TV or movies,” she adds. 

Most interesting of all, Microsoft cites “double digit” growth of VOD revenues from the service, every month since introduced.