TV Cozies Up to Online

You could say TV and the Internet have had a love-hate relationship from the start. They’ve butted heads about the importance of progress versus tradition. They’ve fought nose to nose for audience, time-share, and eyeballs. They’ve been inspired to adopt each other’s proprietary formats, such as TV commercials on the Web, and pop-up ads on TV.

In recent years, the Internet has had the upper hand. Countless articles have been written on the migration of TV watchers to other media such as DVD and the Internet. TiVo, along with console and online video games, also lure consumers away from once-invincible network TV.

This constantly evolving relationship has provided many interesting opportunities for interactive media buyers in search of online TV audiences. Now, it’s traditional media’s turn to covet the Web — and consumers who worship new media.

Last week, the marketing machine behind Mark Burnett’s hit NBC reality show “The Apprentice” handed over the reins of the show’s official Web site to Yahoo for the next two seasons. The partnership is said to be an extension of a previous deal in which Yahoo ran ads for the show on its HotJobs property to promote the new season and recruit future contestants.

According to reports, Yahoo will be producing, hosting, and selling advertising for the Yahoo Apprentice site. The revenue from it will be shared with Mark Burnett Productions. Visitors to NBC’s own show site will be directed to Yahoo, where they can access additional show content.

That content comes in the form of a “You’re Fired” audio download for Yahoo Messenger, a weekly column by a former contestant, and, most notably, show footage and video highlights exclusive to Yahoo. The clips are preceded by 15-second or 30-second ad spots, sold (along with placements within “The Apprentice” site section) to advertisers such as Staples and Sony Pictures.

On the surface, this innovative TV/Web partnership appears congenial. It’s an effort to achieve mutual success in a changing media environment. In typical traditional media fashion, some industry analysts suggest the success of such a cross-media initiative centers on marketers’ ability to give consumers “a reason why they should go online.”

I’m inclined to take a different view. Partnerships like this one will become increasingly necessary in years to come, not for online portals, but for the networks. The primary function will be to generate more interest in television — interest that doesn’t come quite as easily as it used to.

The fundamental purpose of this partnership really isn’t to drive traffic online. It’s to reach out to consumers where they are.

We’ve all seen the stats. Back in 2002, a Jupiter Media Metrix/NDP Group survey found close to half of all U.S. mothers who use the Web were decreasing the amount of time they spent watching TV to conduct more activities online. You can bet this isn’t the only demographic demonstrating such behavior today.

A BIGresearch study, meanwhile, revealed consumers are modifying traditional media consumption habits by watching TV and surfing the Net simultaneously. In addition to providing a good example of media multitasking, it indicates consumers increasingly regard TV and the Internet as comparable in terms of their ability to entertain and inform.

On the advertising side, numerous studies show TV spot recall is better when consumers view the ads online, too. This means if TV networks hope to adequately inform viewers of show lineups and scheduling or create buzz around new programs, they should enter into promotional partnerships that ensure their ads are also being seen online.

Are you starting to see the point? Portals such as Yahoo, and the Internet in general, are where TV audiences increasingly spend their time. Interactive advertising is proving more effective than TV execs could ever have imagined.

The partnership between Yahoo and “The Apprentice” is just the beginning of what’s sure to become standard in cross-media promotion. TV and the Internet will soon have little choice but to shake hands and declare a truce.

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