Anheuser-Busch Pulls the Plug on Bud.TV

Legal Difficulties, Trouble Producing Content Led to Video Site's Demise

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Bud.TV, one of the boldest, most groundbreaking and least successful online video plays by a major marketer, has officially died.

Anheuser-Busch's VP-marketing, Keith Levy, said the brewer will be "sunsetting" the website tonight. Visitors will see a message that notifies them the site is no longer available, thanks them for their interest, and redirects them to A-B's branded sites for Bud Light and Budweiser.

What killed Bud.TV? The cost, effort and focus required to produce the reams of original content the site once vowed to produce, on par with many TV network sites, was simply too large an undertaking for a brewer to handle, Mr. Levy said. "If the networks can't continuously produce that [volume of content], how can a beer company?" he said.

High expectations
This is, of course, not the sort of demise A-B imagined for the site when it launched immediately following the 2007 Super Bowl. A-B executives at the time publicly said they hoped the site would draw upward of 2 million unique visitors a month to view a mix of original, unbranded humor, sports and reality programming.

But the site's aggressive age verification, which checked entrants' names against a database of state-issued identification and sometimes kept even legal-age consumers out, proved a significant obstacle to traffic, which declined 40%, to 153,000, in its second month. Adding insult to injury, a group of state attorneys general ripped A-B for not doing enough to keep underage consumers off the site, boxing the company in further.

By May of that year, traffic was so light that the web-measurement service ComScore couldn't measure it. And the brewer gradually pulled back on producing original content in favor of planting ads on the site, one of which, "Swear Jar," became the site's biggest viral hit.

Mr. Levy said the $15 million A-B spent in getting the site up and running was not wasted, however, because the company learned some key lessons about marketing online in the process.

What consumers want
Chief among them: Consumers are interested in branded messages they can't find elsewhere, and are eager to share what they find. "Consumers want branding, and if you tell them a story they don't see on television, they're receptive to that," he said.

He also said the site's "stickiness" was an unheralded success, with the average visitor spending seven minutes with the content. Mr. Levy stressed that digital efforts remain critical to A-B, saying the company would focus future online-video efforts through Hulu, Yahoo, Facebook and other sites.

Whatever its own shortcomings, however, Bud.TV created an online model that has since been emulated -- with significant alterations -- by the likes of Callaway Golf, Chivas Regal and Adidas.

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