MTV Finds Growing Hunger for Web Shows

By Bob Tourtellotte

While mainstream media focused on MTV's 25th anniversary this week, Internet watchers could look back at the first year of offspring MTV Overdrive, which is leading a rush of video programmers onto the Web to find new audiences.

MTV Overdrive is MTV.com's "broadband channel" launched in July 2005 after testing, and it Webcasts many original programs like its "After Shows" that MTV fans don't see on cable TV.

Increasingly, major U.S. TV networks are also creating original Web content to satisfy people's hunger for Web video. Last month, NBC said it would make "Webisodes" of a comedy "Nobody's Watching," which was a hit on the YouTube Web site.

Web giants such as Yahoo! also are enhancing their role as content distributors by allowing people to post videos on their Web sites. Yahoo also has original programs like "The 9," which counts down its picks of top videos on the Web.

Companies hope to rake in hundreds of millions of new advertising dollars, and advertisers like being able to closely track which ads work with consumers. For their part, Web watchers see the types of shows they want, when they want.

"We have seen more change in the past six months than in the past six years as far as this explosion of video content," said Christina Norman, president of MTV. "But we've still got learning to do in terms of what works and what doesn't."

Several elements have recently created a more user-friendly environment for Web video, experts said.

The technology to upload and download video has improved, making the experience better. Most important, the number of high-speed broadband connections to homes has reached critical mass, and broadband is necessary for good Web watching.

In its recent Global Media and Entertainment Outlook, accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) said the number of broadband households worldwide in 2005 was 187 million, up from 30 million in 2001. By 2010, it is seen reaching 433 million.

What's On The Web

For the most part, "Webisodes" run less than seven minutes or so because companies have learned that attention spans for Web watching are short.

Overdrive generated more than 50 million video streams (videos watched) last month, more than six times the number in July 2005 and the highest in its brief history, according to MTV, which is owned by Viacom Inc. (NYSE:VIA - news).

Generally speaking, the most popular shows center on music, such as "TRL Presents: Justin Timberlake Video Premiere," but others like "After Shows" of MTV programs fare well, too.

"After Shows" offer new content stemming from shows airing on the cable channel, so fans can go online to see more of what they like. For instance, an "After Show" for MTV's "The Hills," a program about women living in Los Angeles, gives fans a glimpse into the stars' daily lives.

NBC has a similar strategy with Webisodes of its hit prime-time TV comedy "The Office." The Web shows on NBC.com are original, so fans of the TV show who want more can get it online.

"You have to go where the audience is, and the audience wants to be engaged like never before," said Jeff Gaspin, who heads up General Electric Co.-owned NBC's digital and cross-network strategy.

Yahoo sees its shows like "The 9" and "Hook Me Up," in which people post videos of personal technology problems, as an experiment of what appeals to Web viewers, said Jeff Karish, vice president of media strategy at Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news).

But the key reason why many in the industry are excited about Web video is the potential for online video advertising.

Ad-Friendly Video

Video helps make the Web more ad-friendly, and Internet ads were the fastest-growing part of the $521 billion advertising market in 2005, according to PWC. The trend is set to continue, and the accounting firm expects Web ads to constitute 10 percent of all ad spending by 2010, up from 3 percent in 2002.

One reason advertisers like Web video ads is that user "clicks" to watch a video can easily be counted so companies know exactly how many people are interested in their product.

"We don't yet know who watches the ad on TV," said Mark Kingdon, chief executive of digital marketing company Organic.

Finally, the Web's worldwide reach can give content providers and marketers instant recognition around the globe versus TV networks that span just one region.

Bill Roedy, president of MTV International, said his company now operates about 140 digital properties around the world, mixing local talent with international stars -- just as MTV has successfully done on TV for 25 years.


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