'CSI' gets a Second Life

Zuiker predicts future beyond TV

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- "CSI" creator Anthony Zuiker dropped some clues to an upcoming Second Life integration with his CBS series in his address here Wednesday at the Virtual Worlds Conference and Expo.

Zuiker was part of a Hollywood contingent at the event signaling the mainstream entertainment business' growing investments in the space. Also present for a closing-day speech was Paul Yanover, executive vp and managing director of Disney Online, which oversees recent virtual-world acquisition Club Penguin.

Zuiker used the opening keynote speech to declare that the future of television "will be TV, online, mobile and games," adding, "The future will be a Web-native program that is not television."

Zuiker appears more than willing to be a pioneer in bringing Hollywood to virtual worlds, announcing that a two-part "CSI: NY" -- the first installment airing Oct. 24 and the second Feb. 6 -- will have Gary Sinise's character go into Second Life to chase a killer's avatar.

"And here's the great thing," he added. "CBS is willing to commit to two 30-second spots that night to tell 16 million people that we're having a 'CSI: NY' virtual world ... that will be up forever."

Zuiker stressed that the "CSI: NY" virtual world in Second Life will be geared for the "CSI" fan rather than the early adopter, with shorter download times and an avatar of Zuiker to walk visitors through the virtual Manhattan.

In addition to casual games for beginners like "Facial Reconstruction," there also will be content for advanced visitors, including the blog game "Murder by Zuiker," where Zuiker will evaluate entries by people trying to solve a crime based on the evidence found in a crime scene in Second Life.

Although there were plenty of other speakers, panels and networking to keep the 1,000 people at the conference occupied, the fact that a traditional TV show was creating the biggest buzz at the conference says a lot about the state of virtual worlds. After a lot of hype in recent years, virtual worlds are reaching the point where the buzz is beginning to stop and people are wondering when the real money begins.

But Reuben Steiger, CEO of Millions of Us, said he's working with dozens of brands, including traditional entertainment properties, who are actively looking to extend their brands into this brave new virtual space. "I think Hollywood is going to do very well in the virtual world," he said, in part because unlike the Internet, virtual worlds pose little threat of pirated content.

Yanover added that a subscription-based business model makes the best sense right now for Disney's virtual world properties, which also include ToonTown, Pirates Online and Fairies, because there are a lot of concerns about advertising to their target audience.

But he suggested that while the Disney brand will carry a lot of weight with audiences looking at virtual worlds going forward, part of that brand is the safe environment that Disney can provide for children and tweens.
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