Star-Studded Bud.TV Launches With a Splash

Comedy, Talk, Viewer-Generated Commercials All Geared to Make Website a Regular Stop for Regular Guys

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Could Bud.tv be the next Comedy Central, HBO or Adult Swim?

It's perhaps not such a far-fetched notion, considering Anheuser-Busch is spending in the neighborhood of $50 million to launch a 24-hour TV network-like web destination.

The No. 1 U.S. brewer has drawn in talent such as former "Saturday Night Live" writer Matt Piedmont and Hollywood marquee names Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Kevin Spacey and Vince Vaughn to populate the site with original entertainment aimed at coveted young men.

The plan was for Bud.tv to offer eight channels when it launched around the Super Bowl, focusing on stand-up and sketch comedy, filmmaking contests, commercials shot by consumers, talk shows, sports, and parody newscasts.

Brands increasingly want to create entertainment they own and push it out to audiences in various forms. The web is a logical place to start and for A-B includes money diverted from traditional media.

A-B isn't alone in seeing the internet as a direct conduit to young consumers who watch less TV and spend more time surfing online.

A number of marketers have launched microsites with multiple channels of original content that aim to hook audiences with entertainment that also happens to be advertising.

Carmakers such as Toyota Motors Sales USA's Scion, Ford Motor Co.'s Ford and Land Rover, and American Honda Motor Co.'s Acura have developed such sites, as have Unilever, Krups, Target, Soyuz-Victan USA's SV Supreme vodka and Brown-Forman Corp.'s Southern Comfort. The millions of people who search out and watch the content equal the ratings of some hit TV shows.

Marketers hope the sites can become destinations. More than that, they could also be incubators for ideas that can be turned into TV series or feature films, giving brands a potentially iconic placement if the project works.

There's an unremitting demand for video bits on the web, especially if they're edgy and funny, now that 78% of all homes have broadband. An estimated 9% of people on the web each day watch videos, and 64% of males 25 to 34 years old go online for videos at least once a week, says Mike Vorhaus, managing director of Frank N. Magid Associates.

"Most if not all marketers should be doing original web content in a way that's sincere to their brands," Mr. Vorhaus says. "But they shouldn't limit themselves in where they put that content."

Those original entertainment pieces should be scattered throughout the web, everywhere from the high-traffic portals to YouTube, he says. These online offerings also need some traditional marketing to let the audience know about them.

Unilever's I Can't Believe It's Not Butter created soap opera-like animated webisodes as part of its original online content last year. They were viewed more than 1 million times, and traffic to the home site increased twentyfold, says Javier Martin, senior brand manager. The marketer created profiles of the webisode characters on MySpace and told consumers through print, TV and other traditional ads where to look.

"We felt like this was a good way to communicate the brand's personality-a little bit over the top, tongue in cheek," Mr. Martin says. "Consumers engaged with our brand on a level that we hadn't seen in any other media."

Warner Bros.' Studio 2.0, a new division that's creating advertiser-backed short-form content, is working on two shows for Bud.tv, including "Hardly News," a pop-culture program with gaming elements and a satirical tone a la Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report." Studio 2.0's business model depends on a rush of brands that want to develop entertainment for distribution on the web, wireless gadgets and other digital platforms.

"We've talked to technology companies, pharmaceuticals, package-goods-just about every industry wants to explore this area," says Rich Rosenthal, an ad agency veteran and senior VP-creative affairs and production at Studio 2.0. "I'm not sure it would work for every brand, but for Budweiser, there's already a demand for their advertising on the web."

Live Planet, a production company with strong roots in branded entertainment, has created a film contest for Bud.tv. Producers have made two short films, the beginning and end of a story. Consumers will be invited to fill in the middle piece, with submissions available for viewing on the site. The winner will come to Hollywood to put the contest entry onto film, and the movie-making process will be shot for more Bud.tv content.

There were no requirements from A-B that the short film have any Budweiser product placement, says Larry Tanz, Live Planet's president-CEO. It's expected to be the first in a series of consumer contests that the producers will shepherd.

"It's great when a market leader takes the plunge like this," Mr. Tanz says. "It's a way to reach the audience in a one-to-one relationship."
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