Syndicated Streaming

Stations, cable networks will be able to run Two and a Half Men on their Web sites

When Warner Bros. officially rolls out Two and a Half Men for off-network syndication in fall 2007, it will offer stations and cable networks the right to stream five off-network episodes per week on their own Web sites.

Warner Bros. will also provide supplemental content for the Webcasts: outtakes, bloopers and cast interviews—material customarily found on DVDs.

Warner Bros. Television Group President Bruce Rosenblum touts the free on-demand digital plan as “precedent-setting.” Until now, syndicators have been much more cautious than broadcast networks about venturing into new digital territory.

The model allows stations to stream all of the previous week's episodes of Men for seven days. Cable networks can offer a different week's worth of episodes on their Web sites over the same duration.

Rosenblum says the model, intended to drive traffic to station Web sites, will differ from the networks'. He notes that networks use their own Web sites and online companies, rather than affiliates, to stream mostly in-house– produced episodes and promos.

In the coming months, Rosenblum and Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution President Dick Robertson will evaluate, on a case by case basis, using a similar strategy for other off-network and first-run shows. The studio, Rosenblum says, is moving to “adapt quickly to the rapidly evolving world of digital distribution.” But he expresses concern about networks' leaving out content rights-holders from digital plans announced at next week's upfronts.

Warner Bros. promised that Men buyers would benefit and offered them a 50-50 split on the Web ad inventory. The studio, sweetening the pot at a time when advertisers' appetites for multiplatform buys have substantially increased, is ramping up to seek what some estimate could be as much as $3.8 million per episode—$2.5 million in cash license fees and the rest in national barter.

USA Debuts Broadband Site

USA Network is launching a broadband Web site, pairing with Yahoo! TV to stream one series and offering episodes of two other series on free video-on-demand (VOD) before they premiere on TV.

As part of its upfront pitch on May 9, USA is expected to announce plans for a broadband video channel. The online hub, CharacterClique, will launch May 11 with user-generated content, Webisodes from original series and other short-form programming.

The NBC Universal-owned cable channel will also exclusively stream a highlights episode of original drama The 4400 beginning May 21. On May 29, the special will rerun on and fellow NBC U-owned site, before premiering June 4 on NBC U's USA, Sci Fi and Bravo cable networks. The 4400 will be featured on USA's Web site with an interactive diary, podcasts and blogs from the series' cast members, writers and producers.

USA will also become the first NBC U cable network to premiere episodes of its original series on several cable operators' free VOD services before they launch on TV. The new season of Monk and the series premiere of Psych will debut on VOD June 30, a week before they run on TV. After that, digital-cable subscribers can view short clips and extra footage from Monk on VOD. —Anne Becker

ABC Reaches Out To Affils Online

In response to affiliates' chagrin at its aggressive delivery of network content on digital platforms, ABC is rolling out a trial in which five stations' Web sites will link to ABC show downloads.

Participating in the two-month test are WISN Milwaukee (owned by Hearst-Argyle), KABC Los Angeles (ABC), WFTV Orlando, Fla. (Cox Broadcasting), WATE Knoxville, Tenn. (Young Broadcasting) and WFAA Dallas-Fort Worth (Belo Corp.).

The test looks like an olive branch to stations, which will not stream the video but rather link to ABC's Web site through prominent banner ads. “Part of goal is to show the strength and the value of local sites,” says WISN President/General Manager Frank Biancuzzo.

The news comes after Disney-ABC Networks chief Anne Sweeney, speaking at last month's National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, said she recognizes that affiliates are unhappy with the network's new-media tests but encouraged them to break away from old distribution models. At the same time, ABC executives reached out to station owners to gauge their interest in a local trial.

Still, Hearst-Argyle CEO David Barrett, who operates the largest group of ABC affiliates, voiced his frustration with the network on a recent conference call: “We are as aggressive as ABC and Disney in terms of recognizing the potential of digital media.”

With the new trial, participating stations will now have incentive to promote the free downloads of Lost, Desperate Housewives, Alias and Commander in Chief. There are also advertising opportunities. On WFAA's Web site, for example, users are directed to an ad before the ABC download page comes up. Increased local traffic could also encourage more advertisers to buy onto a stations' Web page.

ABC has been at odds with its affiliates over new-media deals since the network's move last fall to sell episodes of some big-ticket shows on iTunes. That rift grew deeper when ABC said in April that it would initiate a two-month trial, currently under way, to stream free episodes of several hit shows.—Allison Romano

It'll Cost To Kill 'Reba'

If The CW network decides that a comedy featuring 51-year-old country singer Reba McEntire isn't hip enough, it could cost the new network a lot to lose it.

Before this season, The WB picked up Reba for this season and next from 20th Century Fox Television. But sources close to the show say they are hearing that The CW is leaning toward buying out of the second year of the deal, which will cost network owners CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. upwards of $20 million.

Since that figure can just be written off into the shutdown costs for The WB, many consider it a smart branding move for the youth-targeted CW.

Spokespeople from both The CW and 20th Century Fox Television declined to comment.—Ben Grossman

Askin Exits Tribune

Tribune Entertainment President/CEO Dick Askin announced he would resign both posts May 17. Tribune Broadcasting President/CEO John Reardon will oversee Tribune Entertainment in an interim role following Askin's departure.

“Dick has expressed his desire to venture into new areas and assume increased responsibilities,” says Tribune Chairman/CEO Dennis FitzSimons. Askin oversees all development, production and distribution for more than 15 series, specials and movie packages, including South Park, the DreamWorks SKG film library and American Idol Rewind, slated for fall.

Prior to joining Tribune, Askin was president of Samuel Goldwyn Television and also held executive roles with Fries Entertainment, WNBC New York and KNBC Los Angeles. —Ben Grossman

Bell To Run Court TV?

If Court TV's Art Bell can accept compromises refused by departing CEO Henry Schleiff, he could end up running the network after Time Warner takes full control of the operation.

Time Warner—which currently owns 50% of Court TV—is expected to close this week on a deal to buy out the other half from partner Liberty Media for around $750 million, valuing the whole network at $1.5 billion.

Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting System unit is negotiating with Court TV President/COO Bell—currently the number-two executive—to stay on and run the network, but with far less control. Under the TBS structure, a network chief's territory is limited largely to programming, production and marketing. Bell would lose control of units that currently report to him: corporate communications, affiliate relations and ad sales. He would report to TBS CEO Phil Kent.

Schleiff—who orchestrated a dramatic turnaround after taking the reins at Court TV in 1998—had sought a continuing role but wasn't willing to make those compromises.—John M. Higgins

New Ion Kids Network

Ion Media Networks (formerly Paxson Communications) has negotiated a partnership for blocks of children's programming and will ultimately launch a full digital kids-broadcasting network.

Ion executives are talking to children's producers Scholastic, Nelvana and Classic Media, as well as NBC, about a venture that would start programming parts of Ion's I network in September. The venture would start by programming Saturdays, expand to a daily strip block and ultimately create a 24/7 network on part of the digital capacity of the Ion's 60 owned-and-operated stations. The venture will create its own ad sales force.—John M. Higgins


Strath Goodship is CEO of Miranda Technologies. He was incorrectly identified in “Tech Dazzles in the Desert” (5/1, p. 14)