NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Is a computer terminal like a movie screen? Well, for the past few years, TV networks and other purveyors of TV programs online have tried to display their wares in an environment much like an old movie house: The screen around the video is dark, the lights can be dimmed, and the tableau contains little else to distract you from your snippet of entertainment.
But a computer monitor isn't the untouchable silver screen. With that in mind, some media outlets have been slowly mixing in other elements to keep activity-prone online viewers rooted.
NBC today is unveiling an online-video viewer placed smack dab in the midst of other interactive content related to the program a fan chooses. So "instead of sending you to another video 'room'" said Vivi Zigler, president-digital entertainment, NBC Universal, NBC.com's online video content "will be embedded in the '30 Rock' page, 'The Office' page, the 'Heroes' page." Anheuser-Busch InBev's Bud Light Golden Wheat is being incorporated into the experience as a sponsor, and will "bring" viewers a choice of watching their video in standard or high-definition.
The new design makes it easier for fans to take quizzes, choose deleted scenes or read blogs tied to their favorite program. And, no surprise, the move is also being done to goose such advertiser-important web measures as page views, time spent on site, and click-throughs.
Yet the foray also suggests initial designs for online-video players may have misjudged the people they attract. A broader online viewership may not be as interested in a rarefied video experience that leaves them isolated from opportunities to interact with favorite pieces of entertainment, even though current players tend to treat them as if they are.
Go to Hulu, the online-video site owned by NBC Universal, News Corp. and Walt Disney, and you'll be treated to a viewing experience that apes watching a program in a private movie theater, only with tabs available to highlight reviews and provide access to widgets. At ABC.com, the video takes up nearly the entire screen, though it's possible to access comments and even "share" the episode on Facebook.
However, a broader group of consumers appears ready for more. Behavior once ascribed more readily to teens and 20-somethings "is slowly but surely moving up to people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s," said John Carey, a professor of communication and media management at Fordham University who studies how consumers use media. "That type of online-television watching still skews younger, but it's surprising how many people who are older are doing at least some of it."
In a sign that video-watchers want more to do online, ABC has in recent months introduced a feature that allows viewers to see commentary from producers and actors alongside a specific episode, and even leave their own scrolling comments and make them available to friends. The Walt Disney network is exploring the idea of serving more information to online viewers about the music that plays in various episodes, said Alex Rapo, VP-digital media at ABC. "We are looking at things that are complimentary and bring value to the consumer in the experience of watching one of our shows," she said.
What remains to be seen is whether traditional couch potatoes embrace web-viewing behavior. Already, News Corp.'s Fox has experimented with running Twitter feeds under specific episodes of "Glee" and "Fringe" on the network; the idea was better received by fans of "Glee" than by aficionados of "Fringe," who tend to want the whole screen clear so they can look for clues and other interesting things in the sci-fi drama. "We've done other Twitter events, but have done them primarily online," said Bill Bradford, senior VP-digital media, at Fox Broadcasting.
The network believes most TV viewing is done in "lean back" fashion by traditional viewers, he said. "There is a small and important subset of viewers that do watch our content online, but it's fractional compared to our primary media."
NBC's Ms. Zigler downplayed the idea that the new NBC.com viewer might compete with offerings from Hulu. The two sites represent "very different experiences," she said, with Hulu attracting people who like to graze across a variety of TV programs, and NBC.com attracting hard-core fans of particular NBC shows.