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New, Improved 'Access'

NBC to relaunch gossip show's Web site 9/07/2007 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Celebrity gossip has never been hotter. Web sites have made the celebrity news game more competitive than ever. Now syndication's entertainment magazines , which originated the genre now have to reinvent themselves.

“It's just a simple fact that the landscape of entertainment news continues to get faster and faster,” says Rob Silverstein, executive producer of NBC Universal's Access Hollywood, “It's really like a living organism. Every single week there's another dilemma or calamity or something that needs serious attention.”

That's why NBC Universal plans to redesign and re-launch Access Hollywod.com in late October, adding social networking features, a better video player, more games and more interactive elements.

“This plants our flag in the online territory,” says David Epstein, vice president of digital strategy at NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. “We're getting new users that didn't know about Access Hollywood or were aware of the brand but didn't watch us. Still, this almost 12-year-old brand has a lot of competition in the online space. We need to be out there with a voice of credibility.”

Before the start of the new season, Silverstein held an all-staff meeting and announced this year's theme would be “Urgent '08,” a sort of campaign slogan for the show.

The change is already evident at the the show's Burbank office: Access Hollywood has begun breaking any news it has online, not waiting to first report it on the program. Silverstein and host Billy Bush have added video blogs, and they hope fans will follow suit come October.

“When I talk about Urgent '08, it's about how we write, edit and research our stories,” says Silverstein. “As this genre continues to change, we need to have a greater sense of urgency across the board. Anything we've got we put it on the Web site as soon as possible. It's like a living thing that needs to be fed 24/7.”

The show's efforts are paying off. Access Hollywood.com – helped by links on MSNBC.com, the Internet's top news site, and a partnership inked in June with Yahoo.com's newest gossip site OMG – attracts the most traffic of any of the traditional entertainment news magazine's Web sites, according to comScore Media Metrix.

In July, AccessHollywood.com had 1.446 million unique visitors, representing far more traffic than CBS' ETOnline.com (Entertainment Tonight's site) with 609,000; Warner Bros.' ExtraTV at 278,000; CBS' TheInsiderOnline.com at 211,000 and CBS' InsideEdition.com at 56,000.

Still, Warner Bros.' TMZ.com far outshines any of those sites, attracting just over nine million unique visitors in that same month. With TMZ— the TV show—launching today (Sept. 10), syndication watchers soon will see if online popularity translates into syndicated success.

Additional traffic created by dynamic Web sites can only help the magazines, which benefit by constantly being fresh. The genre holds up better than any other in syndication. Season-to-date in households, CBS' 26-year-old Entertainment Tonight is up 6% to a 5.2, according to Nielsen Media Research. CBS' Inside Edition is flat at a 3.4; Access Hollywood gained 4% to a 2.6, while CBS' The Insider, also at a 2.6, is down 4%, (one-tenth of a ratings point). Warner Bros.' Extra! dipped 5%, also a tenth of a point, to a 2.1. While those numbers might not seem positive, the only other first-run strip to be up year-to-year is Disney-ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, which jumped 3% from last year to a 3.2 from a 3.1 household rating.

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