At thelunchbreakshow.com, hungry nine-to-fivers are served up comedic shorts from programs such as "Saturday Night Live" and "The Office" -- as well as Ms. Fey's "30 Rock" -- between noon and 2 p.m. in their time zones, along with a healthy portion of Arby's ads promoting food from the fast-food chain. The website, which went live in mid-May, is also part of an experiment NBC is conducting to test how much of an appetite consumers have at other times of the day for entertainment typically shown in the evening. NBC expects the venture to start off slow and grow through word-of-mouth, said George Kliavkoff, NBC Universal's chief digital officer.
The other prime time
With online video on the rise, some broadcast-TV networks have begun to discover that "prime time" doesn't always have to be between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., legions of white-collar workers are sitting at their desks -- Harris Interactive says about 35% of the nation's 172 million adult internet users are online at work -- and can be enticed to "snack" on short-form clips of popular network programs and telecasts. With savvy web players such as Yahoo already targeting advertising to daytime surfers, the networks have started to sense an opportunity they can use their popular programs to grab.
"The networks can look at the success that the portals have had, and maybe are trying to quietly, finally, copy that model," says John Moore, senior VP-director of ideas and innovation at Interpublic Group's Mullen. Daytime network TV is clogged with ads from consumer-package-goods companies eager to reach women between 25 and 54. Office workers, however, are often a more affluent audience interested in a wider array of goods and services. In the past, advertisers have made more use of the web and radio to reach these potentially valuable customers.
CBS believes it can find lots of programming to lure office workers, said Steve Snyder, chief operating officer at CBS Interactive. The network has found success making daytime sports events, such as NCAA "March Madness" games, available online. Mr. Snyder estimates that CBS web properties reach 10 million people at work per month, and 14 million when the college basketball tourney is added to the mix. CBS also runs web-only programs that discuss shows such as "Survivor." The network expects those numbers to increase substantially as it builds out on the web.
Alternate, cheaper channel
Advertisers still attach themselves to network-TV programming even if it doesn't air on network TV. Arby's typically buys the majority of its national ad time on cable and is not a big buyer of broadcast owing to the size of its media budget, said Mary Ellen Barto, the restaurant chain's VP-media services. But the NBC idea had some appeal because it could help the marketer reach audiences increasingly able to avoid traditional TV commercials. "No longer is television just Thursday night in your family room," she said.
Even so, running network-TV programming on the web means making adjustments for an audience watching from a place where TV isn't on top of the agenda. The workplace is for filing reports, responding to queries and anticipating the boss' next request. It's not really for watching basketball or comedy clips. Both CBS's "March Madness On Demand" and NBC's lunch-break show come with a "boss button" that will replace the fun stuff with something more workmanlike; in the case of CBS, it's a spreadsheet.
"When people are multitasking, they are going to be less likely to engage with the advertising," said Joe Barone, managing director at Neo@Ogilvy, a digital-advertising unit of WPP Group's Ogilvy Worldwide. One technique that seems to work is coming up with something viral, something that prompts workers to tell a friendly cubicle dweller about the entertainment or, better yet, pass it along via e-mail. At work, some things are inherently more fun "because you are not supposed to be doing it," Mr. Barone said.
But online, the networks face rivals they don't have on the dial and have had to adapt some of their tactics. At Yahoo, for example, web promotions can be targeted by the hour or even by the geographic region of the user, said Jacki Kelley, VP-sales strategy. CBS and NBC have begun to do that as well. The web portals also have large audiences of registered users they can slice and dice for marketers according to information consumers may have provided.
Meanwhile, the broadcast networks are likely to use the web to push forward in their quest to reach other desirable consumers who don't necessarily have boob-tube access. One NBC idea under consideration, Mr. Kliavkoff said, is to figure out a way to reach college students late at night. "We think that there's a lot of students late at night on their computers looking for interesting content, and we think we can use some of our programming to reach those folks."
What kinds of ads work online?NBC Universal, Starcom MediaVest and MSN have joined forces to study consumer reactions to emerging forms of online video advertising.
The three have formed a consortium to see what kinds of online-video ad formats capture consumers' attention or annoy the daylights out of them. "We need to figure out how to make sure they don't tune advertisers out," says Jeffrey Graham, SMG's senior VP-strategic research.
The opportunity to run high-quality video people can interact with is rising. But for the most part, Mr. Graham said, media outlets and advertisers are repurposing TV advertising online. One thing the trio will examine, said Debbie Reichig, NBC Universal's senior VP-development, is whether consumer attitudes toward advertising vary when they are "snacking" on programming or watching long-form video.
Some Starcom MediaVest clients will contribute ads to test, but Mr. Graham wouldn't say which ones. SMG has gained influence among media outlets in recent years by winning business from such prominent marketers as Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and General Motors. The study should conclude this fall. -brian steinberg