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The WB Returns: Why?

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Remember the glory days of the WB? Okay, I missed it too, but Warner Brothers Television Group (WBTVG) is determined to give me a second chance. A few days ago, Mediaweek reported that WBTVG plans to resurrect the old WB network in the form of a new website. Its clever working title is WB.com.

Online users will be able to see all those Warner-produced favorites that aired from 1995-2006, or at very least Gilmore Girls, Everwood, and What I Like About You. Other shows that were not WB-produced, such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Felicity, and Dawson’s Creek, will probably be offered by other sites started or partnered by the TV studios that own them. Also falling in the grey area are current CW shows like Gossip Girl, Smallville, and Supernatural.

A partnership with Hulu was also announced, which is a NBC Universal/News Corp joint online video venture. Warner TV will provide some exclusive content when Hulu has its much anticipated launch this week after being in beta for a while. Warner contributions mentioned were Babylon Five, Welcome Back Kotter, and clips of Friends. Why Friends wasn’t offered in full length form remains to be seen, but it sounds like WBTVG is holding back its top shows for future opportunities.

So why is Warner TV partnering some shows with sites like Hulu, and then airing other content for themselves? That’s where the scramble begins, the fight for who can come up with the best scheme to make the most money. WBTVG has a big plan, but will it work? Let’s look at the three motivating factors behind their decision.

Premise #1. There’s more money in doing it themselves.

While the announcement of the WB.com site was a surprise to many average television viewers, Time Warner (parent company of Warner Brothers) has been hinting that something like this was coming ever since the television group was formed in September 2005. When Bruce Rosenblum was announced to be President of the newly formed division, he was heralded as “… a leader in developing new revenue streams for television content in emerging media platforms. ” This seemed to be true by mid 2007 when he announced his hope to iron out with networks new financial models for the supplier-network relationship in the Internet age. As Rosenblum put it, “future deals could guarantee content suppliers a chance to stream product in broadband form and sell and retain ads for themselves.”

WBTVG has already aggressively put in motion its plans to create its own ad-supported channels. The new WB.com site, which should be in beta soon, is meant to primarily target women from 12-34, and while that may seem like a narrow demographic, it’s the easiest sell to advertisers. They’re holding onto the programming that will specifically appeal to this demographic. WB.com will also feature new short series, with each of these new episodes running five minutes, with 10 installments slated, and at a total cost less than that of an hour of broadcast network drama. An online animation channel is also due to be rolled out soon, possibly by April.

Rosenblum expressed last month, during a frank discussion with Stanford law students, the overall discontent by the major studios with iTunes and their business model. While the studios like the way they can cheaply distribute their content through the site, they’d like to be charging more money for certain shows. Apple prefers the one-size-fits-all model and charges the same for all shows, while the studios want to set their own prices. iTunes revenue hasn’t become a significant business for Warner, although Rosenblum didn’t indicate they were losing money on that model either. By offering their own streaming, WBTVG would earn revenue from ads that doesn’t happen for them on iTunes.

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