TheWB.com is slated to have a beta launch in early May, and could launch publicly by August, executives from Warner Bros. Television Group said. The site will target adults aged 16 to 34 and feature, among other things, the re-release of some of the WB's most popular programs, in addition to other Warner Bros. content and shows created just for the site. Viewers will be able to see "Smallville," "Roswell," "Gilmore Girls" and "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer," as well as the only online showings of "Friends."
Meanwhile, KidsWB.com will feature the studio's library of animation, which includes characters from Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics.
Warner's effort to launch these two video portals comes just weeks after NBC Universal and News Corp. officially launched Hulu.com, a general-interest online-video site, to the public. That site, to which Warner Bros. contributes content, has gained notice not only for making available old programs like "Lou Grant," but for attaching ads to TV-quality video in new and different ways. One Hulu method allows viewers to choose from among a few different commercials.
The number of people downloading or streaming video online at least once a month is set to rise to 190 million in 2012, according to eMarketer, up from 137.5 million in 2007. So it's not surprising that a major media company would launch a site to nab its own sliver of that audience. But as the Warner effort shows, the web could eventually be filled with many different places for online video, each vying against several others for a share of the online-ad pie.
Like other media concerns, Warner is making sure its content is distributed in broad fashion, not just on its own site. Comcast will offer WB.com programming via its Fancast.com online-entertainment site as well as its video-on-demand service. Fancast.com will also distribute content from KidsWB.com. Time Warner's AOL will feature a WB.com-branded broadband channel.
Mattel, McDonald's and Johnson & Johnson have already agreed to support the new initiatives, Warner said. Mattel, for example, will have rights to launch advertising and promotional partnerships for the DC HeroZone, a branded site within KidsWB.com that will feature a gallery of DC Comics content. Mattel produces a line of DC action figures and toys. McDonald's will sponsor KidsWB as well.
The WB site will also have an intriguing alliance with Facebook.com, the popular social-networking site. Users of TheWB.com will be able to access their Facebook accounts while on the WB site and can share video and photos via their profile page.
Warner and Hulu find themselves in an odd dance. Warner continues to provide Hulu with programs such as "Welcome Back, Kotter," "Babylon 5" and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," said a Hulu spokeswoman; Hulu expects to add more Warner content "throughout the summer." At the same time, Warner is going to create a site that could be a Hulu rival.
"The digital landscape is giving us a lot of new opportunities to monetize content, and none of them is mutually exclusive," said Bruce Rosenblum, president-Warner Bros. Television Group.
The Hulu spokeswoman said Warner's efforts show the market for high-quality online video is growing more robust.