Networks Go Viral

Tv On The Web

Devin D. O'Leary
3 min read
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A year ago, networks were all trying (and failing miserably) to sell downloads of their most popular shows for iPod and other digital media devices. Why wouldn’t people be willing to pay $1.99 to see a low-quality, one-time-only rerun of a previously free TV show? (I don’t really need to explain that, do I?) Now, with the proliferation of TiVo and YouTube, networks are starting to figure out the benefits of letting people watch shows whenever and wherever they want. Instead of battling against the Internet in an attempt to keep multimedia-savvy viewers from abandoning traditional broadcast television in favor of cooler more high-tech options, networks now are embracing the trip-dub and all its gimmicky goodness.

What with all the competition on TV these days, reruns have been a losing proposition for networks. ABC, for example, decided not to broadcast any reruns of its series “Lost” this season. Online reruns, however, are giving people the perfect opportunity to catch up with shows on their own terms. Currently, all four major networks feature online reruns for at least some of their shows.

One of the reasons for the breakout success of NBC’s hit show “Heroes” might even be directly traceable to its online reruns. The show’s home page ( broadcasts full video feeds of the previous week’s show. This is pure genius for a series that maintains a continuing narrative. Miss an episode? Catch it online. A recent study by BrandIntel showed that “Heroes” was the most discussed show on the Internet, dominating more than 25 percent of all online television chatter. Clearly something is paying off.

Reruns aren’t the only thing network home pages are good for. Networks have used web pages to debut exclusive content. Sci-Fi Channel broadcast a web-only miniseries “Battlestar Galactica: The Resistance” between seasons two and three of the hit show. NBC aired micro-sized episodes of “The Office” starring assorted background characters over the summer. This both rewards fans and keeps interest in shows high, even when they aren’t on the air. A few weeks ago, CBS began airing table reads of its sitcom “The Class” and NBC is considering webcasting rehearsals of “Saturday Night Live”–both of which may (or may not) boost interest in the shows.

Wired TV fans also have access to downloadable content such as the “Heroes” comic book from or free Adult Swim soundtracks from Podcasts are increasingly popular as well, giving fans the inside scoop on everything from “Scrubs” to “All My Children” (no, really).

Last season, NBC used to slap weekly injunctions against YouTube, trying to keep clips of shows like “Saturday Night Live” off the Web. Recently, however, “SNL” hired people to create their own “viral videos.” Justin Timberlake’s infamous “Dick in a Box” digital short was just such an example. Five days after it was posted to NBC’s official YouTube page in mid-December, it had received more than 4.5 million hits, placing it among the top 20 all-time most viewed videos on YouTube. That video alone probably did more for the popularity of “SNL” than the last four cast changes.

You see, TV, the web is not your enemy. It’s your tool. Use it well!

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