Spike will combine iFilm's library of more than 300,000 clips and viral videos with its own content, which will now include full-length episodes of the network's shows "Pros vs. Joes," "DEA," "Murder" and "GameTrailers TV With Geoff Keighley."
Spike is the latest MTV network to offer up full-length episodes of its own shows, following Comedy Central's recent stand-alone sites for the entire back catalog of "The Daily Show" and "South Park."
The new Spike.com will also come equipped with a series of acquisitions and partnerships with some of the most popular viral-video stars, who appeal to its male 18-to-34 demo. New-content deals include an exclusive blog from Evan Tanner, a star fighter from Spike's flagship Ultimate Fighter Championship series; "Cinimassacre," a new web series from James Rolfe, whose "Angry Video Game Nerd" character has made his channel one of the top 10 most subscribed on YouTube; and a new partnership with Playboy.com, which will yield new co-produced digital programming later this year.
At a press conference for the project, Jon Slusser, senior VP-Spike digital and video games, described the new Spike.com as "not just a promotional site that promotes the channel. It's a destination site for guys, building all sorts of new ways to speak to the audience."
Part of the site's broader play for 18- to 34-year-old men is the integration of iFilm.com, a Viacom acquisition from October 2005 that practically paved the way for YouTube's viral-video cache but never developed enough clout with sponsors. The site was informally merged with Spike last fall before the URL was shut down in January. Erik Flannigan, exec VP-digital media, MTV Entertainment Networks, said that since the merger, Spike.com's average unique audience of 1.6 million users has seen hiccups due to the natural loss of some of iFilm's "drive-by audience."
"When you change a URL that's been active for nine years, a lot of traffic tends to go away," he said. But with the integration completed, he can now focus on his goal to make the combined Spike-iFilm platform the premier destination for young men's online video content.
That's not an entirely unrealistic goal, considering how fragmented online video can get outside of YouTube. For young men specifically, the "long tail" of online video and content has made room for only a handful of midsize players such as CollegeHumor.com, FunnyOrDie.com and, perhaps most significantly, Heavy.com. But even Heavy.com, which doubles as a vertical ad network for targeting young men on smaller niche sites, has seen its leadership loosen and traffic dwindle, with 3.4 million uniques in March 2008, according to ComScore. CollegeHumor and FunnyOrDie have averaged between 1 million and 2 million uniques over the past year. If Spike.com can lure back some of the 3 million uniques iFilm had before it folded, it may be able to catch up to Heavy.
Mr. Flannigan contends that a strong male brand with a linear TV tie-in like Spike could be what it takes for the competitive market to have an undisputed leader. "Websites need to have an audience in mind -- is there some editorial voice? All those folks online have a strong voice, but they don't have a TV partner."
Media buyers tend to see the market the same way. Chris Allen, VP-video innovation at Starcom, said it's difficult to achieve scale for young men with any one standalone site. "What we're typically seeing is if we want to go after young men online, we would use a combination of video as well as traditional online display. We would probably target some of those specific video sites but probably look to some of the ad networks to help us extend our reach."
Mr. Allen also applauds networks such as Spike and Comedy for taking a leadership role in aggressively offering up full-length, ad-supported episodes of their shows online like their broadcast partners. Although ABC, CBS and NBC have had broadband video players up and running for nearly two years, it's taken cable longer to catch up due to conflicts with their cable multi-service operator partners. Since cable networks rely on repeats of original programming to build audiences for new episodes, they often run an even greater risk of cannibalizing their live ratings than the broadcast networks.
Yet other cable groups such as NBC Universal, Scripps and Discovery are gradually rolling out full-length episodes of certain series, and are already working those offerings into their upfront negotiations this year. "Oftentimes, the MSOs have been kicking and screaming, saying they're not going to let you do this with some of the smaller networks that don't have as much clout," Mr. Allen said. "But if you're a USA or a Sci Fi, you have a little more leverage to say, 'This is how we want our deal to be structured.'"
Friends and one big enemy
Mr. Flannigan also seeks to take an aggressive syndication model for Spike.com, going somewhat counter to the Viacom model of keeping online content in-house. In addition to Viacom's still-outstanding $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube, MTV Networks has focused the majority of its stake in social networking on Flux, an application launched last fall. Flux allows users to make friends and share content across the 300-plus sites in the MTVN portfolio with less emphasis on outside channels. Although the new Spike.com comes enhanced with Facebook-esque friend-making and content-sharing capabilities, the platform is separate from Flux.
In fact, Mr. Flannigan said, a Spike Facebook application is in the works, and the site already has partnerships with other streaming video sites like Daily Motion and Veoh. "Our fan base is well aware of where to find Spike," he said, "but this is an incredible opportunity that was not being exploited yet."