Network chops up shows for all-new TV experience on the Internet
AP Television Writer
NEW YORK ” On television, CBS’ “Big Bang Theory” is a traditional, half-hour sitcom about two super-smart dweebs fumbling around their sexy neighbor. On the Internet, that premise is cut to its essence on “Talk Nerdy 2 Me,” a series of clips from the show that last less than two minutes.
They’re the creation of Eyelab, a small division within CBS Corp. ” all of its workers under 30 years old ” whose job it is to slice and dice the network’s programming and distribute it online.
Eyelab produces some 20 to 50 clips each week and gives them to nearly 200 Web sites like AOL, MSN, Juiced, CNet, Bebo and dozens that are part of CBS and its affiliates. The idea is to draw attention to the TV shows, obviously, by using a form of entertainment that can be enjoyed independently.
Some of what Eyelab produces looks much like the promos that are commonly seen on television. Others offer amusing twists: a compendium of slaps doled out on “How I Met Your Mother”; the various times David Caruso dramatically removes his sunglasses on “CSI: Miami”; and “Smut Whisperer,” a clip of dialogue from “Ghost Whisperer” with words bleeped out to pretend the characters were talking dirty.
Eyelab offered a fast-moving 100 reasons to love the just-cancelled “Jericho,” including “chicks screaming in sign language,” “the only cyber-cafe in Kansas” and “high-tech umbrellas.”
Ron Scalera, executive vice president and creative director for CBS Marketing, said he specifically went after people with no mainstream advertising experience in hiring the four employees whose day-to-day job is creating this material. He wanted people who saw the world differently.
“The bottom line is we just don’t want to create something that you can see anywhere else,” Scalera said.
Their work illustrates how television networks are trying to adapt to the Internet instead of viewing it with hostility as a competitor for time. On hulu.com, a partnership between NBC and Fox, computer users can view entire episodes of “The Simpsons” along with individual skits from “Saturday Night Live.” ABC’s Web site lets people watch whole shows or short clip packages.
CBS believes strongly most computer users prefer short material to watching a full episode of a television program. People might spend 40 minutes on YouTube, but they’re watching two-minute clips, said Quincy Smith, president of CBS Interactive.
Smith was intrigued some time ago when he found the “Seven-Minute Sopranos” on the Web ” a lightning-fast compilation that summed up the series’ storylines, one minute per season.
He tracked down the person who made it, a recent college graduate from Connecticut, and called to offer him a job.
“He said, ‘I would love to, but I’ve just started a job at HBO,”‘ Smith said.
Well-produced material tied to a television show is more likely to get people interested in the show itself, and spark online communities of fans, he said. One CBS series that his unit pays great attention to is “Big Brother,” offering copious amounts of material online often bawdier than the TV network would air.
CBS also pulls out easily-digested material from programs to make things convenient for online fans, such as David Letterman’s nightly “Top 10” feature.
Eyelab was also busy a few weeks ago posting clips of Britney Spears’ guest shot on “How I Met Your Mother,” with the buzz around that appearance succeeding in lifting the show’s viewership by about a million people.
“We tried to limit it somewhat,’ Scalera said. “We didn’t want to give it away too much.”
Through a separate deal with Yahoo!, CBS lets computer uses create a custom-made “60 Minutes” program with full-length news segments, shorter portions and outtakes of reports. The show had its most streams ever in March, 35 percent over the previous record in January, with Steve Kroft’s interview with Dennis Quaid particularly popular.
CBS believes the online content does not steal away TV viewers. Smith noted how the CBS Sports Web site has spikes in users while the network is showing NCAA tournament basketball action, meaning many people are checking out something on the computer the same time as they’re watching a game.
“They are massively complementary,” Smith said. “People do not watch the same thing on the Net as they do on television.”
CBS also seeks out blogs dedicated to fans of different shows. The network gives away its material for these blogs to show, all part of an effort to spread its business around to all kinds of areas where its programming is talked about.
“It would be like reaching into the workplace on Monday morning and dropping ads in front of the water cooler,” he said.
It’s hard to quantify whether such online action brings people to the television. Jericho” drew special attention from Eyelab, but it didn’t save the show from being shut down this spring.
Still, it would be foolish to ignore where television viewers are going. That makes Smith a different kind of television executive, doing a job that was hardly conceivable a decade ago.
“I worry about (the Internet phenomenon) Lonely Girl more than I worry about ‘American Idol,”‘ he said.