Time Warner Inc. plans to announce Monday that its America Online Inc. unit will distribute thousands of full-length TV episodes from more than 300 series free-of-charge through AOL.com (www.aol.com) beginning in January.
Its first features: TV series owned by sister company Warner Bros., the Hollywood producer.
And the media giant is negotiating with other studios to give it an arsenal of content that could not only let it compete with traditional TV networks, but eventually make it become home to online versions of top broadcast and cable networks.
AOL and rivals Yahoo! Inc. (www.yahoo.com) and Google (www.google.com) have dabbled in running single episodes of TV shows on the Internet as promotional stunts. This fall, these have included Google’s broadcast of UPN’s new Chris Rock show, Everybody Hates Chris, and Yahoo’s premiere of The WB’s Supernatural science-fiction drama.
But AOL is planning to launch TV shows on the Internet in a big way, with plans to offer dozens of series aimed at reaching viewers in all age, gender and income classifications.
While In2TV will initially distribute series that are out of syndication -- ranging from Welcome Back, Kotter to Wonder Woman and La Femme Nikita -- AOL and Warner executives described the new service as a venue that eventually could launch big original series itself.
AOL executives said their strategy is to blow away rivals and consumers with a vast programming library that will appear initially on six channels, which could expand soon to eight.
While most half-hour shows on TV contain about eight minute of ads, the series on In2TV will only contain one to two minutes of commercials. AOL will run one spot before and after each show and place just one ad during commercial breaks, rather than running pods of multiple commercials.
In2TV’s comedy channel, LOL TV, will include Welcome Back, Kotter, Chico and the Man and Perfect Strangers, while Dramarama TV will include Sisters, Falcon Crest and Spenser: For Hire.
Toontopia TV will run cartoons that have run previously on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, including Beetlejuice and The New Adventures of Batman. Sci-fi and horror shows will run on Heroes and Horrors TV, such as Babylon 5 and Wonder Woman.
Action channel Rush TV will contain La Femme Nikita and The Fugitive, and Vintage TV will include 1980s hit Growing Pains, Alice and F Troop.
In2TV will also tout many interactive elements, including trivia games in which viewers can earn points that can be used to redeem merchandise from advertisers. There’s also a “TV Karaoke” channel, in which viewers can sing along with TV-theme songs, and a “Starchive” page that will feature “stars before they were stars,” such as Jay Leno on Alice and Brad Pitt on Growing Pains.
The shows on AOL will offer 336 lines of resolution, which the online service said would be close to the picture quality offered by digital-cable or satellite signals. The shows will offer “CD-quality” audio, AOL executive vice president Kevin Conroy said.
For more on In2TV, please see Steve Donohue’s story on page six of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.