AOL, Warner Bros. Team for Online TV

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"You've Got Maverick!"

That could be AOL's latest notification alert as it teams with Time Warner on a six-channel broadband network that will let viewers stream complete episodes of vintage programs.

The In2TV network debuts on AOL.com in January and will offer 10 episodes apiece of 30 series, including the hits Alice, Growing Pains and Scarecrow and Mrs. King. AOL.com expects to be offering 100 series and more than 3,400 hours of content by the end of 2006.

“This builds on what has been our programming focus for many years and aligns well with our move to the open Web,” says Kevin Conroy, AOL Media Networks executive VP. “Our focus is on building a media business and driving advertising revenue.”

Amidst a recent flurry of new-media initiatives, the move is the first to fully embrace an advertising model. Conroy says the model—likely four spots for each half-hour of content, with single 15- or 30-second spots replacing the traditional pod of three or four ads—allows Time Warner to bring more content online faster. That, in turn, means more eyeballs, he says, to drive ad revenues and additional content.

“There are reasons that there were decades of ad-supported TV before there was the first pay channel,” Conroy says. “We firmly believe the ad model is the way to build a market and business.”

In2TV’s six original channels are

  • LOL TV (comedies such as Welcome Back Kotter, Perfect Strangers and Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper),
  • Dramarama (Falcon Crest, Sisters and Eight Is Enough)
  • Toontopia (animated shows like Beetlejuice and Pinky and the Brain)
  • Heroes and Horrors (Wonder Woman, Lois & Clark: The Adventures of Superman and Babylon 5)
  • Rush (action shows such as La Femme Nikita, Kung Fu and The Fugitive)
  • Vintage (Growing Pains, F-Troop and Maverick)

Two channels will be added next year for reality shows and cancelled series, the latter perhaps becoming a clearinghouse for unseen programs. “A [cancelled] show could be available almost immediately, [including] any unaired episodes,” says Eric Frankel, president, Warner Bros. Domestic Cable distribution.

The In2TV project has been under way for nearly three years. Warner Bros. began getting TV programs cleared for distribution over the Internet back when the streaming experience was riddled with bandwidth potholes that quickly degraded the viewing experience to the equivalent of a high-tech slide show. Frankel says one of the biggest headaches came from getting rights to music, particularly with songs heard in the background of a scene, such as one set in a bar.

For now, In2TV will have its strongest appeal with nostalgia buffs who miss those shows they can no longer find on TV. Noting that those shows, not surprisingly, were easiest to get the rights to, Frankel adds that newer programs will soon be in the fold.

“In six or eight months, we’ll have shows that are playing on popular cable networks or have recently come off a network,” he says. “We’ll be getting deeper into the mix.”

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