New media's old virtues


Three out of four panelists can't be wrong: The tie is back. On the opening panel for Reality Bytes: Television Internet Conference 2001 (presented by BROADCASTING & CABLE and Cahners Television Group in conjunction with the NATAS New York Chapter), three panelists sported the neckwear. In an era when the influence of the new economy even got the execs involved in the AOL Time Warner merger to shed their cravats, it might be a sign that old is good.

With attendance down approximately 75% from last year (the result of two bad climates: weather and financial), the impression could be that the new economy is yesterday's news. More accurately, the ties and lower attendance could be a sign that the relationship between television and the Internet may be defined more by old media's learning what new media can do for it rather than the other way around.

"The real benefit of the Internet for us is more of a tool to market to our preferred viewers," said Lowell "Bud" Paxson, chairman, Paxson Communications. "When we stopped trying to figure out how to get rich off the Internet and instead how to use it in our current business, it became a wonderful tool."

Paxson noted that the program Doc hit a 3.5 rating in New York, and he credited the Internet with driving viewers to the show. More important, the promotion budget was a paltry $58,000 because of the cost savings the Internet afforded.

A recurring theme at the conference was how to get the online products to more closely reflect television's from a content standpoint.

"If you're a TV station, putting a text version of a local news story online is really lame," said Jonathan Klein, president and CEO, The FeedRoom. "There isn't a hell of a lot of text in a news story to begin with, and a lot of people watch the news because of a local [news personality]. The news itself is a commodity."

Creating an online product that reflects the compelling nature of the on-air offering is the goal. "The online version of Millionaire stands on its own two feet," he added. "The problem with a lot of TV properties online is they don't."

Compounding that problem is that the people hired to do a Web site are often distinct from those doing the television content. "Peter Jennings is ABC News," he adds. "How come I don't see him when I go to"

Michael Davies, executive producer for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, noted that a major key to Millionaire's success around the world is the local host.

His problem with the Web is that, in a way, it's too easy. Historically, distribution methods have been limited and, to get access to distribution, content providers had to work to get better at what they did. With the Internet, anyone, regardless of talent level, has access to global distribution. As a result, it's difficult to tell quality content from less-than-compelling content.

Richard Cardran, president of Tableau Media, however, countered that there is a filter, sorting bad from good. "The filter is the users, the people that discover these pieces of content. And the smart people figure out how to port that over to TV and open up markets."