NBC TO LAUNCH AN ONLINE VERSION OF 'HOMICIDE' SERIES: NETWORK TAKES FIRST STEP INTO ORIGINAL CONTENT FOR THE WEB: NBC'S EXPERIMENTS: LOYAL FANS

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NBC this month makes its first foray into original online programming with a Web-based serial based on the "Homicide" TV series.

The site, which launches in conjunction with the February sweeps ratings period, will be accessible from the main NBC site (http://www.nbc.com) and will feature a separate cast of characters who work on cases that aren't dealt with during the TV version of the show. Users will be invited to participate in the crime-solving.

"Our long-term goal is to have characters and storylines from a number of our shows move out to the interactive world," said Shawn Hardin, VP-executive producer of NBC Digital Productions.

NBC is seeking advertisers to sponsor the content ventures.

"We're looking for exclusive partners for these exclusive areas," said Patricia Karpas, NBC's VP-interactive advertising and client marketing.

NBC owns a chunk of "Homicide: Life on the Street" and has used it for a number of online experiments. The show is part of the Intercast lineup, which gives subscribers added information about each episode as it airs. There's also a transactional element to the existing "Homicide" site (http://www.nbc.com/homicide), allowing users to order albums that contain songs played during the show.

One potential stumbling block, however, is that NBC doesn't own all of its programming. For example, Viacom's Spelling Television is said to have turned down an NBC request to create an online storyline and character extension for Spelling's new daytime soap, "Sunset Beach."

ABC, meanwhile, is designing a major expansion of its Web site (http://www.abc.com) for daytime soap operas and children's programming. One plan being discussed: cybersoap awards.

The advantage ABC has is that it owns its soap operas-"All My Children," "One Life to Live," "General Hospital" and the upcoming spin-off of "General Hospital." One feature that might be highlighted in the network's upcoming cybersoap plans is a chat area so fans can compare notes.

"Building something online around the soaps is an excellent idea," said one agency executive. "They get intensely loyal fans who would likely be strong repeat users."

The networks' moves come after online serial pioneer American Cybercast disclosed financial problems. But ABC and NBC could have more success given their deep pockets and powerful brands.

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