A Review of the New Bud.tv: Anheuser-Bush's Walled Beer Garden

Site Launch Has Accessibility and Shareability Problems

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NEW YORK -- Launching on the back of Anheuser-Busch's multimillion-dollar Super Bowl presence and a gushing New York Times Magazine write-up,

Hear a seven-minute interview with Ad Age editor-at-large Matt Creamer about Bud.tv's current viral shortcomings.

Bud's online-entertainment channel entered the world with about as much hype as a deep-pocketed brewer could get. That this year's most eagerly awaited marketing experiment was immediately dogged by complaints about usability, locked-down content and a burdensome registration process only underscored the significance of what's going on: Marketers are becoming content players, a job that, you might have heard, ain't so easy these days.

Media milestone

The launch of Bud.tv is doubtless a milestone and a laudable innovation, the first time a mass marketer that spends hundreds of millions of dollars with other media channels every year has decided to make its own. A few years ago, Bud would have had to turn to cable TV to do this, and the idea would have been dead on arrival, snuffed out by crippling carriage fees among other economic deterrents. Now, thanks to broadband penetration, it's got a viable entertainment soapbox on the internet.

But creating a website doesn't entirely clear the distribution hurdle, not in a media world that resembles a particularly unkempt teenager's bedroom. No matter how good content is, it has to be shareable, and that's where the venture falls short. In Bud.tv, A-B and DDB, Chicago, have essentially created a walled beer garden of content that, though free, is just about as antiviral as you can be in the digital age.

Driver's-license number

Sure, when you dig a particular video, you can e-mail a friend a link if you use the site's tool and as long as said friend takes the pains of registering. That entails filling out a form that demands your driver's-license number and asks (politely) for your cellphone digits. The main reason for these precautions is clear: It's A-B girding itself against the criticism that it's polluting America's youth by selling it beer.

Makes a lot of sense from a social-responsibility standpoint but much less sense when you're talking about how to reach consumers. Under the setup, the best clips won't be ricocheting around YouTube. Bloggers can't embed video on their sites and, instead, they're left beefing about the virtual bouncer that's demanding personal information. The restrictions will prevent Bud.tv from putting into the pass-along culture of the internet the currents that swept "Saturday Night Live" back into some semblance of relevance and keeps Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert top of mind.

The way things stand, Bud essentially is cutting itself off from the scores of aggregators and filters where a healthy proportion of YouTube's millions of streams are actually watched. And the effect is clear. On YouTube, a search for Bud.tv yielded no content from the site. (It did, however, turn up a beer-drinking cat.)

Drawing the masses?

"The reason that YouTube and MySpace work is that they have an open environment where you can share," said Michael Hayes, senior VP-managing director at Initiative Interactive. "That's what draws masses of eyeballs. The Bud.tv content may be fantastic, but if they can't attract audience it doesn't do much for them."

A spokesman for A-B didn't return calls for comment.

Bud, which recruited a roster of talent that includes writers from "Saturday Night Live" and "The Howard Stern Show," and did deals with Hollywood players such as Kevin Spacey, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, does better on the not-insignificant matter of producing compelling content that isn't just another ad, the kind of stuff the people won't mind spending time with.

It does rise to the challenge of actually creating "marketing sotto voce," as the Times Magazine cooed. Not only is Bud.tv's programming not overly promotional, it does a good job of making bottles of Budweiser and Bud Light pretty much just a part of a landscape dominated by the type of frat-boy humor you'd expect. Some shows, such as a tongue-in-cheek male makeover show, are stale. Other stuff -- "Replaced by a Chimp," especially -- is pretty funny.

Year one costs: $30 million

A-B, in a venture that's expected to cost it at least $30 million in year one, clearly gets the potential for a powerful but not-too-precious brand with an internet-savvy customer base to take control of its marketing. What it hasn't seemed to learn is a crucial fact of today's content world: Just because you build it doesn't mean they will come.

Welcome to media moguldom in 2007, Augie. Ain't it grand?
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