Weighting the Web

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Heavy.com has long offered web-surfing consumers an entertaining alternative to channel surfing on TV. But with a slew of brand new series set to debut this fall, the broadband network is offering web-conscious advertisers an intriguing alternative of their own: original programming that connects with their audience in a way that no banner ever could.

First launched in 1998, Heavy.com is the leading broadband network on the internet, offering online visitors (over 6 million monthly, according to Nielsen/NetRatings) a colorful array of original and hosted content that appeals to the male pop culture junkie's most twisted sensibilities. Visitors to the site can find nuggets of entertainment like newsclips of Paris Hilton throwing a hissy fit, excerpts of popular shows like South Park and Drawn Together, and viral videos like "Behind the Music That Sucks" and "Sith Happens." And then there's the machinima-the filmmaking phenomenon that allows anyone with access to videogame engines to create their very own movies. Seven original series created through this process will form Heavy.com's "Must Stream TV" lineup this fall, allowing the network to go toe-to-toe against anything the major TV and cable networks have to offer.

How does the site expect to compete? By offering what co-founder David Carson describes as " 'Adult Swim' meets the Xbox"-a mix of hilarious, outrageous programming for 18-34 males that broadcast TV simply can't touch. "We're essentially taking games from the Xbox and PlayStation and building shows out of them, utilizing our controllers as if they were marionettes," explains Carson. "The shows are all silly, obtuse and humor-based. It's hard to take something like Tourettes Cowboy and Gangster Nanny 911 [two of the new fall series] as seriously as CSI. But we're trying to cater to an audience that's online and not watching television. And with shows based on games that they're looking forward to buying or are currently playing, there's already a built-in audience."

Each new series will be spawned directly from the off-kilter imaginations of Heavy's staff. "We produce all of the episodes, from concepts to the final product," says Carson. "There's a team of about 25 people, including producers, directors, animators and designers." But it's not an entirely independent effort, as Heavy relies heavily on input from the videogame publishers themselves, which provide the all-important game engines that fuel the machinima machine. "It's definitely a partnership with the publishers," says Carson. "We look at their slate of upcoming games and try to pick out the ones that we think would work as shows. Do they have really interesting characters? Does the engine lend itself well to making these episodes? Can we make something funny out of it? That's usually the bottom line."

Heavy has plenty of experience with that bottom line, having already produced a rabidly-popular machinima series in Pimp My Weapon, using the engine from Sony's God of War. "We did over nine million streams of that thing," says Carson. "We thought, 'Wow, this is something that our audience really seems to like-we should do more of this!' That's what catalyzed us to do an entire fall season of programming around it." Two of the shows are currently live, including Honey, I Killed the Geezer, using the engine for Atari's Indigo Prophecy, and Dr. Philpra, Colossus Whisperer, the second Heavy-produced machinima based on a Sony title (Shadow of the Colossus). "Dr. Philpra is really just us poking fun at Dr. Phil," laughs Carson. "It's a ridiculous self-help program that we all think is very funny, and it's doing very well on the network." Additional upcoming series will include Need for Speed: The Musical and Half-Metal Jacket-which Carson describes as "The Bad News Bears meets Stripes, starring Navy SEALs."

On top of storming the entertainment programming landscape, Heavy.com is blazing new trails for advertisers as well, offering companies like Sony a surefire to drive home their brands with web-going consumers. And Carson believes more advertisers will follow Sony's lead. "For gamers at least, it's a nice way to extend outside of the hardcore followers and reach a broader audience," says Carson. "These shows live for a very long time, so the exposure goes way beyond a media buy. It's much better than buying something on Yahoo or Google or AOL, where they're running a rerun of something from NBC, and trying to place their products around it. This is something that's original, and very much a part of what their product is. It's an extension of the game itself."

So do broadband networks stand a chance of competing against traditional TV programming? "Absolutely," insists Carson. "We've seen a lot of different studies that say men are watching less TV and spending more time online-the average time spent on our site is 45 minutes. In order to compete for their attention, we choose to put up content that clearly would not be on television. By putting up what the networks can't or aren't willing to show, we think we can draw a larger audience."

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