WB Network to Return as a Web Site
The WB brand, born as a broadcast network in 1995 and closed in 2006, will return as an online video Web site, combining short original series with classic shows, the Warner Brothers Television Group announced Monday.
TheWB.com, and a complementary site for children called KidsWB.com, are part of a “digital destination” strategy by Warner Brothers, a subsidiary of Time Warner, to tailor Web sites to specific audiences.
In trying to compete for consumers’ time, Warner and other media companies have sought new outlets for content, sometimes bypassing the traditional network structure and creating broadband Internet channels.
“My 20-year-old daughter and her friends are watching ‘One Tree Hill’ and ‘Pushing Daisies,’ but not on television,” Bruce Rosenblum, the president of the Warner television group, said. “They’re watching on laptops and cellphones. Here’s the interesting part — to them, that is television.”
The Web site, to start in a test form next month, will focus on those consumers — 16- to 34-year-olds, particularly women — with free ad-supported episodes of “Gilmore Girls,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Smallville” and other series once on WB.
The WB broadcast network merged with UPN to form a new brand, the CW, in 2006. Warner and the CBS Corporation are partners for the network, which has suffered ratings declines in its second season.
Episodes of other Warner productions, most notably “Friends” and “The O.C.,” will also be streamed online.
Along with archived shows, Warner hopes to attract users with made-for-Internet video series, including ones headed by McG, who is best known for directing the “Charlie’s Angels” films and whose real name is Joseph McGinty Nichol, and Josh Schwartz, the executive producer of “The O.C.” and “Gossip Girl.”
McG is working with production teams on two series, “Sorority Forever” and “Exposed,” both set at college; Mr. Schwartz is developing a music program.
TheWB.com will face competition from other companies that are producing short-form series and streaming shows on the Internet.
“It’s very hard to form new destinations online,” an analyst at JupiterResearch, Bobby Tulsiani, said, noting that YouTube is still by far the dominant video Web site.
Mr. Tulsiani said a syndication model, where videos are made available on multiple sites, appears more promising for media companies. The online video site Hulu, a venture between NBC Universal and the News Corporation, has adopted the model. Similarly, Warner has signed partnerships with Comcast and AOL to share its video.
Mr. Rosenblum said it was reasonable to expect that content would be shared with other sites. He also said shows from other studios could appear on TheWB.com.
The television arm of Warner entered the digital realm with TMZ.com, a popular entertainment brand, in 2005, and MomLogic, a site for mothers, in 2007. In creating the Web sites, the production division of Warner is acting as its own distributor. Mr. Rosenblum said television production in partnership with television networks would remain his division’s primary and most profitable business for the foreseeable future.
At the same time, “we can’t stick our head in the sand and not acknowledge that there’s an evolution taking place,” he said. “We are taking advantage of the opportunity to go directly to the consumer.”