Bud.tv Misses Its Target on Traffic Numbers -- by Millions

A-B Site Drew Only 253,000 Users in Its First Month

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CHICAGO -- Anheuser-Busch's fledgling Bud.tv drew 253,000 visitors during its inaugural month, barely a fraction of the 2 million to 3 million monthly viewers A-B execs have said they hope to ultimately draw to the $30 million to $40 million web-based TV network.
A-B admits that Bud.tv hasn't had a "wow factor" of breakout content to draw viewers to the fledgling online TV network.

By contrast, Budweiser.com -- a traditional, branded site centered around beer commercials -- drew 281,000 visitors in February.

The February traffic figures were released this week by ComScore Media Metrix.

29,840th busiest site on the web

"We knew it would be slow early on," said A-B's VP-global media, Tony Ponturo, in an interview yesterday. "It's going to take some time to build an audience."

Mr. Ponturo said the ultimate goal for Bud.tv is to draw between 2 million to 3 million visitors a month, which would place it comfortably in the top 100 sites. QuantCast, a website-ranking service, ranks Bud.tv as the 29,840th busiest site on the web, falling just after accessconnect.com, which sells accessories for trucks and vans, and just ahead of mobilephonetrace.com.

The anemic early performance seems to validate concerns within A-B -- also expressed by critics of the site -- that Bud.tv's age-verification hurdles, which force users to supply information from a driver's license or other state-issued identification, is becoming an obstacle to reaching a mass audience.

And, at the same time, the marketer is under pressure from 21 state attorneys general who wrote A-B a sharply worded letter saying the site's age-verification measures weren't strict enough. The attorneys general added that A-B's burden to avoid youth marketing was higher as a content producer than it is in its usual role as a mere advertiser.

Don't write site off yet

Mr. Ponturo estimated that about 40% of visitors to Bud.tv are being turned away by the age-verification interface, either because they're underage, or because of glitches in the system that have prevented some legal-age drinkers from successfully registering.

While that puts A-B is an uncomfortable spot, it's probably premature to write off Bud.tv's ultimate chances for success.

After all, the site is the first-ever marketer-created TV network, and it could take consumers time to make sense of it. Plus, several of the site's "channels" are still just showing trailers, and it remains possible that more visitors will complete the age-verification process as time goes on.

A-B has been selectively buying banner ads to direct traffic to the site, and it expects to increase advertising once the site is fully up and running. Mr. Ponturo said the site was still about two to three months away from adding features such as full-screen views and video archives.

He also said the site's ultimate success or failure will likely ride on its ability to create a breakout hit, the sort of show that viewers enthusiastically pass around via e-mail and downloads to create buzz about the site.

Looking for the 'wow' factor

"We haven't had that wow factor yet with content," he said. "One of the real success measures will be when you see consumers saying, 'You've got to go see this on Bud.tv,' and we haven't really broken that code yet."

What remains unclear is how long A-B executives -- and the shareholders they answer to -- will be willing to patiently wait for a return on an investment estimated at between $30 million and $40 million.

"It's going to take a full year, or maybe even two, to get something really substantial," Mr. Ponturo said. "But I think that, in the context of the total marketing budget we have, that the company should be willing to let it play out, and I feel confident that the company is willing to do that."
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