Interactivity Goes Off-Net

Ever want to sound off to the TV your pleasure — or displeasure — with the plot twists and turns of the latest Heroes or Lost episode? That’s what G4 is counting on.

Not content with just repurposing episodes of the recently acquired, high-profile off-network sci-fi dramas, Comcast-owned G4 will lend its signature 2.0 on-screen interactive format — which allows viewers the ability to post real-time, on-screen viewer comments during the show — to enhance its upcoming replays of NBC’s Heroes and ABC’s Lost.

Neal Tiles, president of the 64 million-subscriber, video game-influenced network, hopes the interactive elements complementing the its airing of Heroes episodes later this month and Lost next fall will drive tech-savvy, young male fans of both shows from online show chat rooms and bulletin boards to the network.

“It’s incumbent on us, especially since our audience demands it, that we try to think out of the box with respect to any acquisition we make by putting our spin on it and what we believe is our viewer’s spin on it,” Tiles said.

The network last week teamed with Sci Fi Channel to secure rights to air the existing episodes of Lost, beginning in fall 2008. The deal will extend through all six seasons of the series.

While Sci Fi will keep Lost fans engaged by running a weekly, four-hour primetime stack of episodes beginning in the fall of 2008, G4 will offer viewers on-screen interactive opportunities around its exclusive cable weekend rights for the series, said Tiles.

Tiles said the network is still working out details of its Lost interactive plans, but G4 will feature a variety of ways for viewers to participate during each episode. The Lost version of G4’s 2.0 platform is expected to feature multiple on-screen interactive and Web-enhanced elements, similar to what the network employs for episodes of Star Trek — the first show to get the 2.0 interactive treatment.

Tiles said the network could also create short, stand-alone episodes for Lost, similar to the complementary Webisodes that networks such as Sci Fi have created for its popular series Battlestar Galactica.

“Obviously, with Lost, there are so many different story lines and so many interpretations and possible interpretations of meanings within the show,” he said. “If there are concrete interpretations from the creators or from the cast, we’ll try to distill that and provide it to the viewers as they are watching. If there isn’t, we’d like to harness viewers’ opinions as to the popular opinions and myths about what’s going on and bring that to the screen in real time.”

The network will employ the same 2.0 interactive strategy when it begins repurposing current episodes of Heroes on Nov. 3.

Two weeks ago, G4 and Mojo, the HD network — owned by video-on-demand content aggregator In Demand Networks — secured rights to air the first six seasons of the sophomore series, with the entire Heroes library available to both networks by 2010. The networks can start airing first- and second-season Heroes episodes as of Oct. 29

G4’s half-hour Heroes “Post Show,” airing immediately after each Heroes repurposed telecast, will feature live chats and polls, along with exclusive interviews with cast and crew.

Tiles said the “Post Show” host will appear at the beginning and throughout the one-hour Heroes telecast, encouraging viewers to participate.

Tiles hopes to repeat the success the network has had with providing on-screen, interactive elements within other acquisitions such as Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Cops, as well as original series X-Play.

Since launching the Cops 2.0 episodes, which air daily at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., in May, the shows have averaged 193,000 viewers, compared to the 171,000 viewers for the traditional daily Cops episodes, according to the network.

G4 hopes that Heroes and Lost will boost viewership for the low-rated network, which averaged a 0.2 household rating during the third quarter of 2007 — flat from the same period in 2006.

While the two shows join other recent off-network acquisitions such as comedy Arrested Development, Star Trek and Cops, Tiles said the network is not abandoning its video game-oriented lineup, which includes such shows as X-Play and pop culture show Attack of The Show.

“We have the flexibility to cover our schedule with content that’s truly relevant to our audience as we supplement it with originally developed content,” Tiles said.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.