Traffic Plummets at Struggling Bud.TV

Brewer's Online Network Sees 40% Drop in Visitors During Second Month

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CHICAGO ( -- Traffic at Anheuser-Busch's online TV network cratered in March following an already underwhelming debut in February.

The declining audience figures appear to give further credence to earlier concerns that A-B's age-verification measures are an obstacle to reaching a mass audience.

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Bud.TV drew 152,000 unique visitors last month, 40% fewer than February's 253,000 visitors, according to numbers released today by ComScore Media Metrix. A-B executives have said that they hope to draw between 2 million and 3 million visitors per month by early next year to the online network, which is costing the brewer somewhere between $30 million and $40 million.

Far cry from top 100
Quantcast, a separate ratings service, said the site was the 49,303rd busiest on the web, just ahead of pornography site, and just behind, which bills itself as a "comprehensive source for sheet rubber." That's down steeply from February's 29,840th showing and an even further cry from the top-100 ranking A-B executives hope to ultimately secure for the site.

A third web-ratings service, Alexa, also showed steep traffic declines during March.

A-B VP-Global Media Tony Ponturo declined to comment about the ratings performance. But executives at the brewer continue to say they are hopeful that new content coming online later this spring -- including the satirical news game show "Hardly News," a show featuring sportscaster Joe Buck, and exclusive, directors-cut content from several movies -- will draw more viewers.

Age verification an obstacle
The declining audience figures appear to give further credence to earlier concerns that A-B's age-verification measures, which force users to supply information from a driver's license or other state-issued identification, are an obstacle to reaching a mass audience.

Those concerns were exacerbated when, in February, a group of state attorneys general wrote A-B a sharply worded letter telling the brewer that those measures, while more than what most other alcohol marketers offered online, weren't sufficient. The argument was that, as a content creator and purveyor, A-B had a greater burden not to market to youth than it did as simply an advertiser.

According to two people familiar with the matter, neither the attorneys general nor A-B have taken any additional steps to change Bud.TV's age verification since that letter. Bud.TV's dwindling audience may wind up rendering the issue moot anyhow.

Little interest on YouTube
In an earlier interview discussing last month's figures, Mr. Ponturo said the site's content -- a collection of mostly humor-driven digital shorts -- was still seeking a "wow factor," a breakout hit that would draw notice on YouTube and other viral video channels and bring visitors to Bud.TV. But that clearly hasn't happened; Bud.TV videos dropped into YouTube have generally been met with little interest, if their anemic number of views is any indication.

(One hopeful exception is the network's post-apocalyptic drama serial "Afterworld," an episode of which did grab more than 143,000 YouTube views. The series "Replaced by a Chimp" has been less successful -- a recent episode showing a chimp doing an advertising executive's job drew only 384 views.)

Bud.TV's performance is the subject of widespread interest among media and marketing professionals because it is the first attempt by a marketer to launch a full-scale TV network online. But consumers don't seem nearly as piqued.

Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, which measures online buzz through tools like BlogPulse, said Bud.TV hasn't made much of a stir online. "It's generated very little discussion, even relative to other things they do like Bud ads," said Mr. Blackshaw. "It is not penetrating at the level you'd expect."
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