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Comcast Site Teams With Facebook - Broadcasting & Cable

Comcast Site Teams With Facebook

Social network is expected to give a boost to broadband provider’s VOD offerings
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Last week’s announcement of a partnership between Comcast Interactive Media’s Internet video site Ziddio and social-networking site Facebook.com offers a glimpse of how media companies are working to turn user-generated content into revenue. By embracing an existing online community, Comcast is hoping to raise awareness not only of its video site but also of its increasing video-on-demand (VOD) offerings.

The move builds on the cable giant’s strategy of upping its profile as a creative content generator among the college demographic.

The Facebook pact, Ziddio’s highest-profile deal to date, sets the stage for similar agreements in the future. The social network offers a huge base of users to provide content—and potential viewers—to the site.

“We are going to tap into [Facebook’s] viral nature,” says Elizabeth Schimel, Comcast senior VP, online content development.

This deal is not the first to create user-generated content for television. Current TV has experimented with the form, and Doritos, Chevrolet and the NFL all aired user-generated ads during Super Bowl XLI. It will, however, be the first to turn home-produced video into a series.

Called Facebook Diaries, the series contest begins in mid March, when Facebook users will be invited to post videos to Ziddio, which launched in November. Every two weeks, users can contribute and rate content relating to open questions, such as “Who am I?” The highest-rated videos will be edited by producer R. J. Cutler into ten 30-minute television shows. Cutler is known for such edgy documentary fare as The War Room and American High. The final product will air on both companies’ Websites and on a Comcast VOD channel. Although neither company would reveal financials of the deal, Facebook Diaries is expected to sell advertising and sponsorships.

The success of the show will depend heavily on participation by Facebook’s 16 million users. Among social-networking sites, it is a distant second to News Corp.’s MySpace, where concerns about children and security have “undoubtedly sent young people to the Facebook,” says News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch. Originally offered only to college students, it opened its doors to all ages last September and saw its number of registered users surge.

The companies are hoping to “get everything from very raw Webcam, personal” kind of video to “polished, film-school types of pieces,” says Schimel.

Since its inception, Ziddio has teamed up with HBO, Lucasfilms and Endemol for similar contests where winners’ movies are posted on the sites’ VOD channels. While the company has worked to differentiate itself from the dozens of other video sites that have sprung up in the wake of YouTube, its major selling point remains its relationship with parent company Comcast, the world’s largest broadband provider. Specifically attractive is “its multiplatform reach and the link to TV through Comcast’s video-on-demand,” says a Facebook spokesman.

The Shape of Things to Come

Facebook Diaries is sure to face competition out of the box: The Comcast deal comes amidst mounting hype for linear TV shows developed out of online properties. Many Viacom cable networks have been developing shows from their Web properties, AOL’s gossip blog TMZ is set to be a syndicated daily in the fall, and YouTube VP of Content Kevin Donahue has acknowledged that converting the site into a conventional 30-minute program or a linear station was being considered.

Whether Facebook Diaries becomes hit or footnote, it’s a move in the right direction for Comcast. In a panel discussion at last week’s Media Summit at McGraw-Hill, Us Weekly Editor in Chief Janice Min predicted more connections in the coming year. “I watch American Idol and see it as something that could be on the Web,” she said. “This is the year when companies are going to figure out how to successfully monetize user-generated materials and make them feel professional.”

E-mail comments to garth.johnston@reedbusiness.com

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