Discovery.com Drives TV Viewers

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NEW YORK -- Discovery.com is all about eyeballs -- TV eyeballs, that is.


Television viewers are worth significantly more money to the Discovery brand than Web site visitors, so the online property works to drive television viewership, said William Allman, senior vice president and general manager, Discovery.com, Discovery Communications.


"The Web is good at getting people to really commit to watching a show," he said during a discussion at the Jupiter Media Forum held here this week. "The real surfing is done on television."


However, television-related Web sites present a different challenge than do newspaper and radio sites because the latter have content that translates more directly to the Internet, Allman said. The answer for television-site producers, he said: "You've got to look like a television station." Hence the graphically rich Discovery Web sites.


"It moves, it blinks, it roars at you," he said. "It no longer can be captured with a screen shot."


Half of Discovery.com's visitors access it from work, making bandwidth less of an issue, he said.


Community and fan sites also are a staple of the brand, and user interaction is key. For example, after an episode of "Pet Psychic," the pet psychic, Sonya Fitzpatrick, was brought online.


"We're trying to create an experience that the program is the highlight of," Allman said.


Also, the content of "Thrills, Chills and Spills," an upcoming show on roller coasters, reflects a vote Discovery.com took last year on users' favorite roller coasters. Questions submitted online and answered on television are another tactic.


"The ultimate in driving relationships is getting them invested in [the show]," he said.


For one-off programs like documentaries, Discovery.com often will launch a related Web site two or three weeks in advance.


To help drive demand for those shows, Discovery.com has a "remind-me" function that lets users arrange to be reminded by e-mail of the show's airtime. So far, the number of users of the service is "small potatoes," or in the tens of thousands, Allman said.


"But if it's 1 percent, that's a big deal," he said.


Though the offline and online marketing budgets are not linked, Allman said, Discovery.com spends more on shows the network is obviously high on.


"We usually don't compare on-air to online spending," he said. "If the network is pushing a show, though, Discovery.com puts money behind it."


Allman also said that Discovery is experimenting with some broadband content that may lead to some paid offerings.


The announcement comes as publishers hit hard by the worst ad slump in memory have been looking for ways to bring in more revenue. Naturally, they've been looking at all the Internet content they've been giving away.


However, Jupiter released the results of a study at the Media Forum earlier this week concluding that 70 percent of online adults "cannot understand why anyone would pay for content online."


Revenue from paid online content is expected to reach $5.8 billion by 2006 from $700 million in 2001.


"While there is money to be made in the online content business, Jupiter's latest survey and market forecast numbers indicate that the mass market still largely shuns anything that smells like a subscription online," said David Card, vice president and senior analyst, Jupiter Media Metrix, New York.


Yet a minority but significant percentage of consumers are resigned to paying for online content someday, according to Jupiter. Forty-two percent of online adults surveyed expect that over time people will have to pay for content online.


What's more, major media properties are in a better position than they were four or five years ago because they no longer face well-financed start-ups giving away quality programming and taking marketshare from them, Jupiter said.


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