Monday, February 05, 2007

Bud TV

Yesterday Anheuser-Busch (makers of Budweiser) launched the incredibly ambitious

I've been collecting links on various online entertainment network sites and news articles for the past month while keeping an eye on their growing online presence. joins the ranks and enters into the branded content fray with guns blazing.

The dollars (somwhere between 30 and 40 million) and the talent behind this are no joke. The shows include:

• “Finish Our Film,” a mash-up of reality show and making-of-a-film documentary that will be produced by LivePlanet, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s production company. They will be providing the beginning and end of the film winers of the contest will fill in the middle.

• "Replaced by a Chimp", exactly what it sounds like, self-explanatory.

• "Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show", a comedy tour show.

• "What Girls What", a make-over show.

• "afterworld" a very cool looking animated series, the least expected of the offerings.

There is a good piece from the NY Times called BrewTube, definitely worth a read.

But Bud.TV is striving to be more than a repository for Budweiser ads and lighthearted, slightly mocking beer-commercial humor; Schumacker and his team are aiming to redefine what an online entertainment network and marketer-created content can mean in a short-attention-span world.

Anheuser-Busch has budgeted more than $30 million for the start-up costs and the first year of operations of the site, but Ponturo told me that figure is likely to pass $40 million by the time 2007 comes to a close.

The Web site’s technological demands have proved costlier than planned, and Bud.TV’s voracious appetite for new content — at least 15 new segments will be posted each week — has eaten through expectations and forced Schumacker and his team to decide as they go just how much they are willing to spend on programming. The development and production tally for the first three shows Bud.TV commissioned (“Truly Famous,” “Replaced by a Chimp” and a makeover show for clueless Casanovas called “What Girls Want”) came in around $2 million, averaging between $20,000 and $25,000 a minute. At that rate, Ponturo told me, the annual budget would be sapped in a matter of months. “You can let the ball of yarn get away from you very fast,” Ponturo said. The later shows, he added, are costing a more affordable $6,000 a minute.

Beyond keeping a lid on programming costs, Bud.TV executives will also deal with some of the pit-of-the-stomach dread that comes with the job description of any network executive: the tyranny of ratings. If after a year, between two million and three million people between the ages of 21 and 34 are visiting each month, “It would put us in high cotton,” Ponturo said. (An audience of that size would tower over what sites like and see.) But if that traffic figure is stalled in the mid-six-figures, “then I would think that we’ve missed the mark,” he said.

In this topsy-turvy world of media and entertainment, where marketers play programmer, studios play ad agency and viewers play possum when traditional ads come on television, one other twist is in the offing. If Bud.TV becomes a virtual hangout for young men, Anheuser-Busch may well start selling advertising to other companies who crave pushing their marketing messages in front of this fickle audience. That debate is already taking place within Anheuser-Busch. At first, Schumacker itched to market Bud.TV. But on further reflection, he realized that that would negate the streamlined, almost minimalist design of the site. After all, Schumacker told me, he didn’t want Bud.TV to look like it was selling out.

This has got to be giving network television executives some sleepless nights.

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