Get Rich With Streaming? Try (Get-a-Grip-on) Reality Programming

Have you ever heard an idea so unsound that you questioned your own judgment of it? Your thinking goes: No one would have done this without a reason, but no matter how I look at it I can’t figure out the reason or the revenue stream. But really smart, highly paid — even famous — people are behind this, you tell yourself. There has to be some logic here.

I’ve been going through one of those what-am-I-missing-here episodes this week, ever since Yahoo announced a partnership with Carsey-Werner Distribution to acquire full-length TV shows (among other programming) for Yahoo Broadcast. The idea: lure users to rich and streaming content. Snag the viewers, and you lure marketers interested in those more-effective (and higher-CPM) rich and streaming ad buys.

Sounds like a plan, right? Yahoo is, after all, run by Terry Semel. As the erstwhile Number One at Warner Bros., he’s supposed to “get” entertainment. Carsey-Werner distributes and produces some of the most successful shows in the history of television. These two parties know TV programs that can attract audiences and advertising. So why don’t they know this idea isn’t going to work?

Why should you, as a marketer, care? Well, because there are enough problems in the world of interactive advertising, and there’s no need to create new failures. If your business is rich and streaming marketing and you advertise the wrong way on the wrong platform to the wrong audience, you will fail.

Advertising 101

Content is the bait. Advertising is the hook. That’s the common wisdom in television. And publishing. And radio. And every other ad-supported medium. As an editor, I think about what you, our readers, want in ClickZ so advertisers who want to reach you will buy space (from our ad sales department, not me, I hasten to add).

The bigger and better the audience, the more you can charge for the advertising. Super Bowl ads are priced at a premium because a lot of people are watching. So I wish someone could explain to me how Yahoo’s going to sell advertising — especially expensive rich and streaming advertising — by Webcasting a program no one watched, or advertised on, when it was fresh 15 years ago.

Yahoo and Carsey-Werner are vague with the details about what entertainment content will be distributed online. All they’ve specifically mentioned is “Townies,” a failed 1996 ABC sitcom; a Bugs Bunny cartoon; “clips from classic commercials”; music videos; and celebrity interviews.

Why aren’t they Webcasting “The Cosby Show,” “Roseanne,” or other Carsey-Werner hits? Simple. They can’t. And they won’t be able to for a long, long, long time — if ever.

TV shows are distributed through broadcast and syndication platforms on network, cable, and satellite. That’s why hit shows, such as “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld,” have legs. They bring in ad dollars — year after year. As long as they’re bringing in TV dollars, they aren’t gonna be sold for CPMs anytime soon. Then, there’s the question of foreign rights. Carsey-Werner distributes its programming in 175 markets abroad. Programs usually don’t air overseas until months — or years — after their U.S. debut. Do these markets — which pay millions for programs in the expectation of making a profit by selling advertising on them — want their shows publicly available on the Web before they air? About as much as Metallica wants to put Napster in charge of distributing its LPs.

Am I missing something here? I have been out of the TV industry a couple of years. I thought maybe something changed dramatically in my absence, so I asked Janet Stilson, an expert on international television. She doesn’t get it, either. “I doubt that any syndicator is going to sell Yahoo programming that would jeopardize revenue in the broadcast or cable TV windows domestically or internationally — especially in this economy,” she said.

Robert Raleigh, president of Carsey-Werner’s domestic and Web distribution, admits that this is “a difficult question. Most of our contracts are mute on Internet distribution.” Mute, maybe, but you’re not going to alienate the TV customers paying the big bucks by running “their” shows on the Web first.

Bottom line: The good programs are spoken for.

Entertainment Webcasting has enormous potential for advertisers. Routing it through the channel of television can increase its viability. We’ve seen this work. Webcasts that enhanced the experience of existing shows such as “Survivor” and “Big Brother” were hits. They have proven they can attract audiences and advertisers alike and offer integrated, vertical opportunities for brands.

The last thing the industry needs is “programming… not available anywhere else on the Web,” as the Yahoo press release put it. Programs such as “Townies” haven’t been available on the Web — or anywhere — since 1996 because no one wants to see them. If no one wants to watch, no one’s going to advertise. If they do advertise, we’re going to see plenty of finger-pointing, and we’ll have to listen once again to that old refrain about how Internet advertising doesn’t work. Only this time, it’ll be rich and streaming media that are the culprits — advertising offering real revenue potential to buyers, sellers, and agencies but sullied because a major player is headed in the wrong direction.

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