Shaq show site eyes long life

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RDF USA and ABC are looking to throw their weight around online for the broadcaster's upcoming fitness-themed series "Shaq's Big Challenge."

RDF, which is producing the unscripted format for ABC, has joined with the network, online health company Waterfront Media and series star Shaquille O'Neal to launch a substantial companion site, ShaqsFamilyChallenge.com, in advance of the series and which is expected to continue after it ends.

RDF's strategy deviates from established practices in TV/ online tie-ins, which typically dictate that a significant investment in a Web extension only comes after a TV franchise finds ratings traction — a difficult task in the summer viewing season.

RDF USA CEO Chris Coelen envisions the site and the program driving traffic to each other. "When you add all the pieces together, we think the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts," he said.

Added Bruce Gersh, senior vp business development at ABC Entertainment: "As we figure out different business models, this is another way to go. We continue to extend our shows in new and innovative ways."

"Shaq's Big Challenge," which premieres at 9 p.m. Tuesday, features the Miami Heat 7-footer helping overweight children. The site will mix free information for diet-conscious people of all ages with an extra layer of content available for a monthly subscription fee, including phone and e-mail content with dietitians and trainers.

The site has an online powerhouse in its corner with Waterfront, which counts nearly 8 million unique visitors per month to its network of online health brands, including "The South Beach Diet," Denise Austin and Dr. Andrew Weill. Waterfront is expected to put $1.4 million into the site, including heavy online promotion.

Fitness-oriented programming successfully has bridged TV and online worlds before; NBC followed up on reality franchise "The Biggest Loser" with BiggestLoserClub.com, which keeps the brand active between seasons of the series.

For its part, ABC will plug shaq.abc.com several times throughout each episode. The network has committed to only six episodes, but even fewer could air if viewers don't turn out.

That won't hinder the Web site, Coelen noted, which can exist as a stand-alone service. "We hope the show runs a very long time," he said. "But the site can live on far beyond the show."

The deal was brokered by RDF execs Max Benator, head of the company's digital division, and Kirk Schenck, president and general counsel.
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