Networks get serious about Web immersion

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'Heroes" has proved heroic in more ways than one for NBC, and the peacock network has no one to thank more than the broadband community, which embraced the show weeks before its televised debut. This January, NBC sent out a "thank you" to that community by taking the show's digital experience to a new level, with "Heroes 360," the network's most extensive digital initiative to date. Two hundred million page views, 30 million unique visits and an interactive Emmy nomination later, NBC Digital launched behind-the-scenes original Web series in May.

With that kind of success, suddenly everyone wants on the bandwagon. "This year there's a 100% increase in terms of showrunners saying, 'OK, let me talk to the digital guys,'" says Vivi Zigler, NBC executive vp digital entertainment. "There are conversations early on about what's important -- what kind of elements and themes will be online in relation to the show."

Those eager showrunners are getting what they want, as NBC continues to increase its digital momentum with newly created online extensions based on the fall 2007 dramas "Bionic Woman," "Chuck," "Journeyman" and "Life." NBC also has digital extensions planned around its midseason drama "Lipstick Jungle."

"It's a big deal to us strategically to make sure the creative content online is absolutely within the mythology of the show and that they play off each other," Zigler says. "You have to have respect for the fans."

Meanwhile, each of the big five networks are also saddling up this fall: CBS and Fox, while not ready to formally announce plans, say they have multiple online extensions in the works. ABC is touting a heavier focus on short-form video in general, the streaming of full affiliate specials and a new channel on abc.com streaming its shows in HD. The studio is also introducing community features like writer and character blogs around its new shows "Pushing Daisies" and "Carpoolers." "That's a toolset we're really focusing on in the next year," says Alexis Rapo, vp digital media at ABC.

For its part, the CW has created an entire virtual replica of Manhattan's Upper East Side for new fall entry "Gossip Girl." Using their own self-created avatars, users can become virtual UES residents and visit the same New York locations the show's characters frequent, while online links will direct surfers to sites where they can purchase clothing and music featured on the series. Fans can also network and gossip with one another through their individualized profile pages, created with pictures and video from cwtv.com, and use clips from the show to make their own "Gossip Girl" music videos, which can include personal pictures and videos and be distributed through mobile devices.

Additionally, for its new drama "Reaper," the network has created an online game. Says Rick Haskins, executive vp marketing and brand strategy for the CW, "We're really trying to understand what's right for our viewer and how they watch the show, and give them that experience."


MORE FALL TV SEASON COVERAGE

FUTURE TENSE: Networks battle new media for viewer eyeballs
FEED THE WEB: Networks pursue total online immersion
REMOTE CONTROL: Scorecard on networks' fall strategies
GRID LOCK: Media buying experts survey the fall season
DIGITAL REALM: Film giving way to digital ... slowly
CREDIT CHECK: Studio and producer credits for the fall season


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