How TV Networks Are Tuning in Online

Television has been in the process of redefining itself. With preseason ad spending not living up to expectations and rumors of an actors’ strike, things could be better in the TV business. After receiving countless e-mail newsletters about the current state of affairs, I thought it would be interesting to investigate how well TV networks are embracing interactive applications online. Focusing on mobile applications and social networking, NBC, CBS, and ABC are all making strides to make their Web sites online destinations. Here’s how they’re doing it.

NBC

NBC has a dedicated page to showcase its mobile applications. Users can download ring tones, wallpaper, and games and subscribe to text alerts from their favorite shows. For example, fans of “The Apprentice” can get text updates and tips from The Donald himself. There are also options to upload video programming directly to mobile devices.

On the social media side, NBC has fan groups broken out by TV shows and organized according to programming schedules, which is a unique and user-friendly way to list social content. The site also has a calendar to track fan members’ birthdays. There are widgets available for download and embeddable video clips that can be added to any number of other social networking and bookmarking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. As with all the network’s sites, users can watch full episodes of their favorite shows — some of which are available for download. This site has also made some of its classic programming, like “Battlestar Galactica” and “Miami Vice,” available to the online audience.

CBS

CBS offers exclusive content on its site, creating a reason for its fan base to visit the site. On the home page, CBS tracks and links to the most popular video clips, giving users quick access to the most watched content. As on nbc.com, favorite syndicated CBS content is available without a subscription on site. Programming like “The Twilight Zone,” “Star Trek,” and “Beverly Hills 90210” are accessible to users. There are also show-specific message boards where users can vent about cliffhangers and plot twists, while interacting with fellow fans. On CBS Mobile, virtual personality Ashley highlights content on the different Web pages and walks users through the perks of subscribing to CBS’s mobile options.

ABC

Last but not least is ABC. One thing that puts ABC ahead of the pack: on its mobile page, users can select their cell phone providers and phone models to make certain the mobile applications will be compatible. Abc.com also has text alerts, ring tones, and games available for mobile download. There are widgets that users can upload to their phones, post on their desktops, or embed on their social networking pages. These widgets have links to video content and include a countdown timer synced with the next scheduled airing of a featured show.

Abc.com also has message boards where users can have virtual conversations with some of their favorite TV characters. And there’s a section dedicated to CGM (define) where users can post their own Academy Award acceptance speech or make predictions about what will happen on the next episode of “Lost.”

To drive television viewers online, these networks have gotten creative with incentives that other Internet outlets are unable to provide, at least in one place. The key is to provide a mix of unique content, such as mobile applications, widgets, and Web-only programming, with full-length streaming video of current primetime and daytime TV shows. This way, broadcast networks can convert their broadcast viewers to online users.

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