Welcome to the Web, Warner Bros.
It’s already been four years that TV shows have been available online. Long enough that after spending a half-hour on Internet searches, I can’t figure out who was first with which show (I think it was The WB on Yahoo!, but I can’t remember the show). Anyway, streaming a show online was a big deal back in the day. Now it’s old hat – almost anything you could want is available online, from ABC.com to Apple’s iTunes to YouTube (copyright protected, of course).
Today, networks and studios are taking matters into their own hands and launching their own online video platforms. NBC/Fox’s Hulu and CBS’ Interactive Audience Network (Um, CBS – is that name really the best you could do? How many meetings did your marketing gurus have to come up with that one?) are signing distribution deals with anyone that will have them – AOL, MySpace, Microsoft, CNET Networks, Comcast, Joost, Bebo, Brightcove, Netvibes, Sling Media, Veoh and the list goes ever on.
It’s the Wild West for studios who are trying to figure out the best way to serve their customers. Forget exclusivity, the battle cry these days is “get our content to consumers anywhere, anytime they want it.”
Today and last week we finally saw a lot of action in this area from Warner Bros. The Burbank-based studio is arguably tops in Hollywood in terms of productivity and profit, but it lacks a major TV station group or network on which to distribute its plentiful content.
Warner Bros. has made three major announcements in the past week. First, it cut a deal with Disney-ABC to stream the shows it produces for ABC (at this moment, those shows are: Big Shots, Men in Trees, Notes from the Underbelly and probably most importantly, Pushing Daisies) one year after they air on the network. Warner Bros. will also be able to offer the shows for download and on DVD.
That deal is important and possibly trend-setting because Warner Bros. has been trying to figure out for a while now how it could take advantage of its own shows without alienating the networks to which they sell them. What will be interesting is what comes next – will NBC and CBS follow ABC’s lead? And both those networks buy plenty of product from Warner Bros.: CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves used to have Peter Roth’s job as head of Warner Bros. TV, and Warner Bros. produces part of all the Bruckheimer shows (among other things) for the network. And Warner Bros. was the studio that produced Friends and The West Wing for NBC. But both networks are working on their own aforementioned ubiquitous distribution platforms, so they might not want to be as accommodating as ABC.
Second, Warner Bros. announced T-Works, an online home for the studio’s many animated characters, including those from Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics. This marks “the first time that all the key characters from Warner Bros. Entertainment’s unmatched family of animated icons … are brought together in a single site,” according to the press release.
On the site, users will be able to watch library episodes of animated classics, play games, customize familiar characters to their liking, create mash-ups and, of course, engage in the Web’s ever-present social networking. (Does anyone network in the real world these days?)
Two original projects will debut on T-Works – one based on “Batman” and one on “The Wizard of Oz,” both of which remain popular and timeless brands.
Finally, on Monday, the New York Times wrote that Warner Bros. plans to spend $3 million – ok, that’s a drop in the bucket for a major studio, but still – creating 24 original programs for the Web. Essentially what Warner Bros. is saying – although the Times failed to make this point – is that the studio is going into the Web production business, much like it went into the cable production business and came up with hits like Nip/Tuck and The Closer.
In many ways, Warner Bros. arrival to the online world as a producer is a long time coming. Isn’t this why Time Warner bought AOL for monopoly money in the first place? But better late than never. These deals signify the coming of age of Web 2.0, because it means the country’s major production companies are finally taking Web video distribution seriously. Move over YouTube’s dogs on skateboards, here comes Batman.