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September 12, 2006

NBC/AOL Deal Shows First Episodes of Studio 60, 20 Good Years

CBS is not the only network trying new experiments in how to distribute their shows online, as NBC has announced a distribution deal with AOL for two if its most popular shows, one of them beginning this week.

Last week, I wrote about the network's new deal with The Class, as well as previews for other debuting CBS shows Shark, Jericho, and Smith.

I wrote then that, "the idea here is to make good content available ahead of time, so that the network can both embrace new platforms and show their innovativeness while also giving content to viewers ahead of time in hopes that the content is so good that these folks will act as grassroots advocates for the show's debut so that allowing a few people to watch the show early will actually lead to more viewers, not less, when the content is first broadcast."

Henry Jenkins IV, who has seen several of the shows planned to be previewed by CBS, questioned whether they were of superior enough quality for the sneak previews to spread positive word-of-mouth. Obviously, a viral communication campaign that spread the word about how a show is mediocre is not what the network is hoping for, but I'm assuming that CBS believes in the quality of the shows and make no judgments myself, since I've never seen the shows in question and am not a TiVo user.

NBC may have hedged their bets more in the show they released for viewing a week in advance, as they chose the new Aaron Sorkin show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip to debut on AOL's video service yesterday. Considering that the show not only stars two fairly well known television actors in Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford, the show should have some general buzz, but the audience they would hope to reach as early viewers of the program who could then spread the word about a show's quality are even more likely to like an Aaron Sorkin show, who has been the golden boy of many television critics with his impressive first few seasons of The West Wing.

Studio 60 is running without commercials until next week, when the show debuts on NBC. The network plans to do the same for Twenty Good Years, which will go online through the AOL service on Oct. 4.

The AOL deal is not the only way to see Studio 60 in advance, as to release the first episodes of both Studio 60 and Kidnapped for rent in advance to Netflix subscribers.

NBC seems to have chosen wisely and, from the people I've talked to who have seen the Studio 60 preview, they are giving it rave reviews. Again, I'm holding out hope for the CBS shows as well (particularly Shark, as I'm a James Woods fan), but the point is that shows must be of superior quality for this type of promotion to really work.

As Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek points out, there are other movements along this line as well. Fox offered the first seven minutes of The Simpsons online in advance of the show's debut last Sunday night, and the CW Network plans to make three of its prime-time series' first shows of the season available a week in advance through MSN's video service.

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