Is It Online? Or TV?

No one expected MTV to be such a huge success, either.

That’s what Drew Massey, founder and CEO of the ManiaTV! Network might say to skeptics of what he calls “the world’s first Internet television network.”

In keeping with last week’s theme of merging TV with the Web, I’d like to introduce you to ManiaTV, the latest amalgam to hit media culture, and one of the most notable to date. It’s being called “the next revolution in TV,” and it’s found exclusively online.

ManiaTV officially launched Labor Day weekend, while the rest of the country relaxed and recharged. The independent television network, which caters to the youth culture, broadcasts music videos, short films, action sports, and cartoons (over 30 programs in all) — all the TV content a teen or young adult could want. It’s interactive, with chat functionality and a “live webcam room.” It includes its own team of “CyberJockeys.”

Content is delivered to users via streaming video on a pop-up screen and can be watched while surfing the Web, emailing, using IM programs, and so on, much like picture-in-picture TV. Add to the above features 24/7 programming and free access, and you’ve got what can only be described as MTV for the 21st century.

MTV may be the closest comparison. “There’s no competition,” says Massey. “Nothing like this exists [on the Web]. There are lots of places you can find music videos and entertainment online, but nothing that’s live with CyberJockeys, 24/7.”

Like most distinctive ideas, ManiaTV was a long time in the making. The concept was devised back in 1998, but Massey waited until 2002, when broadband access had penetrated 20 million households, before considering a launch. “I knew that was critical mass, and the same number of homes that had cable when MTV launched,” he says.

When he was finally ready to take the next step, he found support for the network in the media and entertainment industries. The company’s advisory board includes a Carat CEO, a Hollywood movie director, a sitcom creator, and a magazine publisher.

The network also appeals to advertisers, particularly those targeting the coveted youth market for which, as Massey notes, “the Internet is the medium of choice.” When it comes to advertising on the network, however, things can become a little tricky. ManiaTV doesn’t accept traditional online ad formats, such as banners and pop-ups. Advertising comes exclusively in the form of online broadcast commercials, sold to buyers on a CPM basis.

Does that make it a television buy or an online buy? That’s precisely what potential advertisers have been asking. Massey’s standard answer seems to leave the decision up to the marketer. “It looks and smells like TV, but it’s on the Internet,” he says of the network. “It’s really a hybrid of both.”

The wooly nature of its advertising opportunities doesn’t seem to deter marketers as of yet. ManiaTV’s client list already includes DaimlerChrysler, Norelco, Intel, Dell, and eBags. Advertisers without existing TV creative needn’t rule out the opportunity. Massey says he also works with smaller businesses and Internet companies, helping them produce the necessary ads.

To date, the ManiaTV Network only draws about 5,000 unique viewers per minute, but that number is expected to grow to over 100,000 within the next five years. Its audience may not rival MTV’s viewership even then, but Massey doesn’t believe that will affect the company’s success. He plans to launch multiple stations and expand programming in time. He hopes his early entry into what could become a hot new industry will give him an upper hand. “We’re not going to replace MTV or cable TV,” he says, “but we aim to be the leader in the space online.”

Just when we thought the line between TV and the Internet couldn’t get any more blurred.

As a media buyer, what’s your take on ManiaTV? How do you see this hybrid ad model fitting into your media plans? Drop me a line with your comments.

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