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October 26, 2006

The OC Debuting Online Early for Fox Affiliates, MySpace

News came out this week that the season premiere of The O.C. will be first show launched online through MySpace today, a week before it makes its debut. The show will begin airing on Fox on Thursday nights starting Nov. 2, but, according to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek, this will be "the first time Fox Interactive Media, the parent company of MySpace, will offer full episode online in advance of the program's on-air debut" (sic). The second episode will also be put on MySpace and on the sites of local Fox affiliates before it airs on the station and will remain to be made available after their TV broadcast, supported by advertising revenue.

This is the next step in a continued move toward providing more television program cross-platform, distributing shows through the Web, at least in experimental form. CBS innertube has continued to gain steam, while NBC, including NBC's deal with AOL, and ABC have made news in recent weeks for their own methods of distributing shows online through their own Web players and sites.

Owning the MySpace distribution space sets Fox apart from its competitors in this regard and questions how far Fox can stretch its use of the social networking site for synergy. This comes only week after the announcement for several Fox shows to be made available on-demand through MySpace. At the time, I wrote, "The plan is to air a variety of the top Fox shows online, especially during this month, when the network's regular programming is being so regularly interrupted with baseball playoffs. By streaming shows through MySpace, Fox hopes to maintain viewer connections with these shows, so that the fan base won't lose interest during their hiatus form television."

The OC introduces a new scenario, in which Fox is trying to get people talking about the show's opening this season before it's launched. It is reminiscent of CBS's preview of The Class on TiVo, as well as previews of several other shows. 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." Fox has also made its content available to multiple other sites.

Marshall Kirkpatrick at TechCrunch questions Fox's choices of what to make available at MySpace, feeling that a lot of weak shows have been offered, considering that The OC has been pitted against top shows from other networks and that Fox has not even ordered a full season this year, with questions about a great falloff in interest in the show, which has been considered somewhat of a cultural milestone for this youth generation.

Kirkpatrick writes, "Making shows available online first is a good move to build web viewership, but is Fox still not getting it or are they not taking it seriously? Perhaps they take what so many people say about MySpace being lowest common denominator consumers seriously. Why put weak shows in a media experiment? Aren't such experiments destined to fail? Why take the shows offline a week after they play on TV? Some long tail ad revenues would make sense."

I think he's right in saying that they are only putting "a little toe" in the water, but there are so many problems to overcome with expanding content across multiple platforms and with transmedia storytelling--issues with the WGA and affiliates. Will this be a boost to The OC. Conversely, is Fox just not providing enough to meet audience demands when it comes to cross-platform distribution? How far can MySpace be stretched as a tool for distribution for Fox without losing its appeal as a social networking site with its own identity? I guess we'll see how this all plays out in coming months.

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