It's "back to the future for CNET Networks" said CNET EVP Joe Gillespie, who will today announce video-on-demand distribution and a Web destination for the company's technology-related video programming. The publisher previously produced shows for television that aired on USA Networks, the Sci-Fi Channel and CNBC, but dropped the broadcast effort to focus on Web-only video as the dot-com boom busted in 2001.
The new video-on-demand (VOD) deal will make available how-to instructional videos, news and other topics on cable provider Cox Communications' VOD offering, on TiVo boxes and to TVN Entertainment, which distributes programming to other cable operators. Programming will first be available in June; CNET plans to create a similar offering for its own Web site some time in the second half of the year. Gillespie said he expects to get CNET TV on all of the major multiple-systems operators (MSO), or cable providers.
Each program will run about 15 minutes in length, and will contain :15 commercials before and after video runs. A shorter spot is more proportional to the length of the on-demand video. "Our experience is that when you run longer than a :15 online, we get a violent reaction from our viewers," said Gillespie.
Ad units will be sold by CNET. Each spot will likely be created for the format and not ported from linear TV. "I don't think we've ever taken a pared-down :30 TV commercial," said Gillespie. "For the most part, just about everyone we've spoken to understands that running TV ads on the Internet is just a rude disruption."
Best Buy's Geek Squad brand has signed on as a charter sponsor for CNET's programming. Additional sponsors are expected to be announced around launch. The offering will likely attract technology companies looking to advertise on the VOD format. "The advertising on CNET and CNET TV is largely, if not highly relevant to why [consumers] self-selected to view this programming in the first place," Gillespie said.
CNET will also offer category-specific sponsorships to advertisers who want to associate themselves with certain types of programming. Categories range from digital cameras to Wi-Fi to autos. "We're finding that tech advertisers are smart enough to realize this is an entry to their brand," said Gillespie.
From about 1995 to 2001, CNET produced programs that aired on USA Networks and the Sci-Fi Channel, and later on CNBC. Along the way, it began creating video for its Web site. "We saw a demonstrable uptake in user behavior when we started adding video to product reviews," said Gillespie. "Nothing demystifies technology like video."
Television channels dedicated to technology have not been an unqualified success. Gillespie previously served as EVP and CEO of cable channel TechTV, which was acquired by the Comcast-owned G4TV in 2004. G4 launched as a video game channel, however it began running syndicated shows like "Star Trek: the Next Generation" and "The Man Show" to fill in gaps in programming.
"Trying to program a seven by 24 network customized by technology is impossible, and impossible to get a Nielsen ratings on," said Gillespie.
An expected side effect of the VOD programming is to drive viewers to the Web.
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