Web-Only Programming’s Evolution

There’s a new relationship in Hollywood. A famed, Oscar-nominated actress and a renowned film director are involved. But don’t expect to see the fruits of their labor play out on the big screen or even on TV. Their work debuted right here on the Web, and that’s where it’ll stay.

A few weeks ago, Unilever’s Dove brand launched a cross-media ad campaign in which Internet media plays the starring role. The effort is designed to promote the new Dove Calming Night product line and centers on three unique Webisodes currently running on dovenight.com.

The brand tapped big talent for the campaign: “Desperate Housewives” actress Felicity Huffman and director Penny Marshall. An interesting concept was hatched to correspond with its push for busy moms to take relaxing nightly showers with Calming Night products. The original short programs place Huffman in three familiar sitcoms from the past in which she interacts with other famous TV moms.

Dove integrated its products and brand message into the Webisodes in a quite clever fashion. The dream-sequence concept may not be original, but the tagline “Shower with Dove Calming Night and see where you drift off to” drives the brand message home. What’s most intriguing about this campaign, though, is the way the Web and TV are converging. Internet media rival TV as the primary customer communication medium. The trend is slowly creeping into the mainstream.

Last year, the Food Network cooked up a concept for a Web-only series featuring one of its newer chefs, Dave Lieberman. “Eat This with Dave Lieberman” tracks its namesake as he travels across the U.S. to uncover food trends. The series is only available on the Food Network site, an interesting approach, given it’s produced by a TV network.

It doesn’t end there. A few weeks ago, Katalyst Films — the production company headed by Ashton Kutcher and known for such reality TV programs as “Punk’d” and “Beauty and the Geek” — announced it will develop at least five new shows later this year. The twist? They’ll only appear online, on AOL.com and on AIM, AOL’s instant messaging platform. It’s speculated the shows will comprise about 20 mini-episodes and all content will be entirely original.

We can’t expect the mouse to replace the remote control just yet, but this new focus on Web-only programming could produce some interesting opportunities for online media buyers. We’ve long looked with envy at our offline counterparts’ access to abundant product-placement prospects while making due with Web advertorials and site sponsorships. Not only are these slim pickings, they often lack the video element that can make the television alternative seem so rich.

The introduction of Web-only programming also stands to drive more traffic online. That could make otherwise standard banner placements instantly more appealing. It may even encourage consumers to spend more time online, further expanding the Internet’s share of consumer media consumption. According to a new study by JupiterResearch, the average online consumer spends 14 hours a week on the Web, the same amount of time spent watching TV. Certainly, this was a factor in Dove’s and the Food Network’s decisions to focus their energy on the Web.

We needn’t wait for the third-party Web programming landscape to fully develop before executing an online programming campaign. With Dove’s groundbreaking effort for inspiration, there’s plenty online marketers can do right now. Dove clearly invested a sizeable sum in its Webisodes, including high-priced talent fees and rights to existing programs, but Web-based programming and a huge marketing budget needn’t go hand in hand. Possibilities for affordably creating original online programming include devising a reality-style show and recruiting customers to create content for you. Funds you save in production costs can instead be allocated to promotional media buys.

We probably won’t encounter any Web-only celebrities on the red carpet next year. Then again, there’s no telling how this new take on an established medium could alter the media environment. How would you like to see Web-only programming evolve to benefit media buyers? E-mail me with your thoughts.

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