Stardom in Action

Two years ago it was accepted wisdom that the web was different from TV, and that web users would resist the entry of TV assumptions on the medium.

Some of the assumptions of that time, like the idea that video content would replace text, have still not become real. (You’re reading this, after all.) But it turns out the web has an enormous synergy with TV, at least the mass market web does.

Take a look at the March MediaMetrix rankings and notice how many of the top sites are now owned by TV networks. ABC’s Go Network is number six, followed immediately by NBCi. CBS affiliates hold down places 31, 40 and 42. Even News Corp. is in the top 50.

These successes came from mere publicity, simple ads and screen crawls. What happens when you strategically combine media with celebrity, when the two are totally integrated, and when you (so to speak) put flesh on the media bones?

One thing that happens is Martha Stewart Omnimedia. (The accent is on omni, as in all.) Stewart started with TV celebrity, moved into magazines, turned that into a lifestyle, took the lifestyle public, and now uses the web to tie it all together.

The stock hasn’t been doing that great (like your dot-com can talk) but the company is profitable, earning $5.6 million in the first quarter of 2000. Earnings before income taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) was $25.3 million, so the company had plenty of cash flow to lose $6 million on its $10.6 million in web merchandise sales.

Oprah Winfrey is, to quote Emeril Lagasse (another TV star), kicking it up one more notch. Like Stewart, Winfrey gained fame on TV. She understands the power. And she was very late to the web. But this was part of her strategy: She was lining up investment, talent and programming to launch her Oxygen cable channel. Once that was done, and only then, it was time for the web site.

You’ll notice one point above all when you are on either the Stewart or Oxygen sites. They’re tied very closely to their TV affiliates in style, look and content.

If you watch the Oxygen cable channel, you’ll notice another innovation, one that proves Oprah “gets it.” There’s a black bar at the bottom of the screen that can show captions during news shows, but always shows the station’s logo (a subtle ad for the web site) and can also show the URLs of advertisers while the ads are running.

Another innovation is linking shows like “Pure Oxygen” directly to the web. Most stories have a web component, a poll or a chat or a link to more data, displayed on the crawl while the story is running. PCs are everywhere on the set, and the breathless hosts are often pushing the web.

I think I’ve seen the future. Celebrity, publicity, and cable links, mostly to the sites owned by the cable networks, sometimes to advertisers or the people on the screen. Expect every cable network to go in this direction, but know now who the trailblazers were Citizen Stewart and Citizen Winfrey.

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