Time-honored TV traditions shift

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As the new TV season gets under way, a slew of networks are airing their shows in distinctly nontraditional forums, a reaction to viewers scheduling their own TV outside the bounds of the network grid.

CBS, UPN, The WB and Fox networks each have advanced plans to offer their shows in any number of ways from cable and satellite on-demand platforms to online-even podcasts of new season shows. In late August, Time Warner-owned HBO made the first three episodes of its epic series "Rome" available to non-subscribers on national video-on-demand platforms. Separately, consumers buying particular home videos at retailer Best Buy got a free DVD of the $100 million historical drama, which commenced Aug. 29 and is still airing.

What these moves mean for marketers is long-established media-consumption patterns are being shaken like bits of paper in a snow globe.

"Time shifting may outstrip our current methods of managing media measurement," said Gene DeWitt, founder of New York-based DeWitt Media Options. "We may have to think about person-specific measurement and have a multimedia measurement of a single sample. That's done in some places in the world and would be wonderful; we could do a fabulous cross-media comparison that is based on modeling right now. We have the boundaries of media blurring. Media-specific measurement will have to go the way of the dinosaurs."

A spokesman for News Corp.-backed satellite broadcaster DirecTV said the system offered the chance for its TiVo customers to download part of the premiere of Iraq war drama "Over There" two days ahead of its cable launch on FX in August. The spokesman added that when DirecTV phases in its new DVR boxes-it is winding up an agreement to promote TiVo-the company would keep 60 hours of storage available for customers to download on-demand programming.

Podcasting `GL'

Just last week, another Time Warner-owned network, The WB, revealed plans to join with Web giant Yahoo to launch its most-buzzed-about show, "Supernatural," online. The premiere will be available for seven days-commercial-free-before the show rolls out Sept. 13. It is the second time The WB has planned such a stunt: last year's most anticipated drama, "Jack and Bobby" also premiered on America Online. CBS, meanwhile, has already begun to podcast daytime drama "Guiding Light."

"We're very focused on looking at certain programs that are more perishable, like reality shows," said Nancy Tellem, president CBS/Paramount network entertainment group. "It is very important to grab as many viewers as you can and offer it on another platform."

Disney Co. has taken a lead in releasing last season's hits in time for fall on DVD and is in talks with Comcast Corp. about compensation models for on-demand viewing as little as a day after they originally air on ABC.

All this time shifting begs major questions of the future of both media buying and planning: When is a premiere really a premiere if viewers have seen it already online? What do ratings mean when viewers might watch TV in ways they watch HBO programming, maybe not on its first run but its second or third repeat?

Media agency Initiative is helping advertisers sort through their options as hit TV shows multiply across alternate mediums. The agency has catalogued as many as 27 avenues to reach fans of a particular show. Initiative's new technology aims to match brand attributes with shows in particular media. "The idea was to start looking toward future consumers and how they're using new media. Scheduling will lose some of its impact," said Stacey Lynn Koerner, exec VP-director of global research and integration at Initiative. The tool, titled "Advisor," is just rolling out to clients and the agency describes it as "day-part and distribution-platform agnostic."

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