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Screening shows on other people's sites

Fox and others look into Web video syndication, widening distribution into the blogosphere.

February 05, 2007|Chris Gaither | Times Staff Writer

Fox Television Stations Inc. is signing up new affiliates for its news programs: bloggers.

The News Corp. group, which owns 35 TV stations across the country, struck a deal last week with Internet company Critical Mention Inc. to push video segments from its local news shows to blogs and other enthusiast websites.

When the service rolls out in the spring, a KTTV-TV Channel 11 story about fire safety, for example, might get plastered on fire department websites, with some ad revenue going to the sites' owners.

"Our challenge is to maintain our reach," said Ron Stitt, Fox Television Stations' vice president for digital media. "But in the future, the way we do that is looking more and more like a multiplicity of platforms. We have to be in a variety of different places."

Fox joins a growing field of television companies experimenting with online video syndication, which flips the industry's traditional approach on its head.

TV networks are increasingly trying to attract audiences to their websites to watch shows. But through online syndication, TV companies such as Fox are placing targeted videos on specialty sites where potential viewers are likely to be.

"The hallmarks of traditional media have been limited distribution and an emphasis on driving an audience to their own properties," said Will Richmond, president of Broadband Directions, an Internet media consultancy. "Online syndication takes advantage of what the Internet does best -- distribute traffic to millions of points. You're talking about an unlimited number of distributors."

Politicians have started using online syndication to take their messages directly to supporters. For example, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) last month recorded a video announcing his intention to run for president and used Brightcove Inc.'s service to let bloggers publish the video on their sites.

The online video syndication market is growing crowded with powerful contenders.

Search giant Google Inc. has launched test programs with Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks, Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group to put TV clips and music videos on other websites, then match the videos with targeted ads. For example, clips from MTV's "Laguna Beach" and VH1's "Celebreality" ran on blogs that included PopSugar, Egotastic and fan-sites.org.

"We can take the content out to where the users are," said David Eun, Google's vice president for content partnerships.

Brightcove, a Cambridge, Mass.-based start-up, is also emerging as a force. It has deals to syndicate content from many big media companies and record labels. The company has received $82.5 million in funding from prominent venture capital and investment firms, New York Times Co., Time Warner Inc., IAC/InterActiveCorp and Hearst Corp.

Traditional media companies are treading cautiously. Many are wary of giving up control of their properties to bloggers. Others don't have the legal right to syndicate because of contracts that didn't foresee such relationships. Additionally, systems aren't fully formed for measuring video viewership across many sites, making it harder to sell the concept to advertisers.

"It may be a departure from what they've traditionally known," said Carolyn Creekmore, senior director of media analytics with Nielsen/NetRatings. "On the other hand, the [Internet] space as a whole is getting a bit more comfortable."

TV companies have taken tentative steps, such as syndicating their programs to the websites of familiar allies -- television affiliates.

Buena Vista Television, Walt Disney Co.'s domestic TV distribution division, plans to use Brightcove's service to stream promotional clips from "Live With Regis and Kelly," "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and "Ebert & Roeper" to CW Television Network affiliates, the companies plan to announce today.

Like Buena Vista Television, TMZ.com, the celebrity news website created by Time Warner's Telepictures Productions and AOL, is taking what Brightcove Chief Executive Jeremy Allaire calls a controlled syndication approach. TMZ said it was streaming its video clips to the Huffington Post blog and working on syndication deals with other news sites.

Last fall, cable channel AMC let monster-movie fan blogs, including chillercinema.com and eatmybrains.com, run commercials promoting the cable channel's Monsterfest marathon.

But its parent, Rainbow Media Holdings, didn't have the contractual rights to syndicate scenes from the actual movies to bloggers -- a common problem that Allaire said media companies were working to solve.

"If last year was really the toe in the water, I think this year people are going to wade in," Allaire said.

The big appeal of video syndication is the ability to reach a large number of viewers by pulling together niche audiences, each of which can be served ads specific to the website it's watching.

"Successful online advertising requires scale and targeting, and syndication really provides both," Richmond said. "I'm a believer that, longer term, as the model proves itself and the players get more comfortable, syndication is going to reach into every nook and cranny on the Internet."

chris.gaither@latimes.com

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