It doesn't yet have a name or a Web address, but if all goes as planned, an intriguing and potentially powerful local Internet experiment partnered by Cablevision Systems Corp. and Primedia Inc. will launch this fall in the world's largest petri dish: New York.
The MetroChannels (www.msg-metro.com), part of Cable-vision's Rainbow Media Holdings Inc., and Primedia's New York magazine (www.newyorkmag.com), one of the country's top city magazines, are dumping their underachieving sites for a joint Internet presence.
Sold by its own dedicated sales staff, this site is only part of the joint-venture package. The new partners will exchange and create content, using New York's trademark theme issues and its well-established editorial calendar as a guide.
For instance, the early September launch of the collaboration will key on the city magazine's popular fall-preview issue.
"Right from the get-go, there will be editorial themes that will be expressed in the magazine, on television and on the Web. We will be using these joined-at-the-hip editorial projects to offer advertisers three-in-one exposure for a given project," Rainbow president of regional programming Greg Moyer said.
The first product of the joint venture will be a series of 60-minute programs produced by MetroChannels based on the magazine's themes. Production will be roughly one program per month, starting with the fall preview, according to Moyer.
The Web site-still unnamed at press time-will launch later in the year. Headed by Carolyn Everett, who came on board in June as CEO of the joint venture, the Web site team will decide how print and broadcast content is used online.
The partners initially hoped to have a name for the site-to be produced for both narrowband and broadband-by June. Moyer promises a "simple, catchy and clever" URL (uniform resource locator).
"We are expecting and demanding of our Web-site editors to deconstruct our magazine and our television content and repurpose it as they see fit, meaning that there's no limitation to them using our video or New York's editorial," Moyer said. "But I don't want to convey that we think it's sufficient to just plunk those two products down on the Web and just sit there."
Moyer isn't building his hopes on making the new site into a start page. "We're not trying to be a regional Yahoo! [Inc.]. I think what we really hope is that our brand will have a clear personality so that people will come to it and know what we offer and consider us the leading brand for advice and assistance."
The partnership brings together two media outlets at very different stages. Launched in 1998, the MetroChannels-Metro, Metro Learning and Metro Traffic & Weather-are still trying to establish an identity; Metro is the latest evolution of what was once known as Metro Guide.
At 32, New York is looking for ways to stay fresh and visible through the increasing Big Apple media clutter while capitalizing on its strengths.
Is the Rainbow-Primedia combination a potential model for other joint ventures? As a multimedia partnership and package buy, possibly. But few local partnerships could equal the power of a suite of cable networks that reach 3.8 million households and an established city magazine with 400,000-plus circulation and strong regional demographics.
The two have more in common than a market. As president of NBC Cable, Primedia CEO Tom Rogers worked closely with Cablevision CEO James L. Dolan and Rainbow president and CEO Josh Sapan. NBC Cable owns 25 percent of Rainbow.
The move meshes Primedia's push for a stronghold in new media with Rainbow's plan to extend its brands through alliances that are consistent with its networks' voices.
It also gives both companies the chance to offer more to advertisers in terms of cross-promotions, sponsorship opportunities and ad packages.
"It's not too soon, not too 'out there,' to say that, yes, there will be package deals worked out. We're willing to work together in every way that we can," New York publisher Alan Katz said. The cross-promotional opportunities as the most obvious benefit, he added.
One of the challenges will be helping advertisers to tailor messages that use each medium's characteristics to reach their objectives. Another is getting print or broadcast clients to see the value of adding the Internet to the mix.
And just because packages are available, this doesn't mean advertisers that rely on one medium and that may want to add the Internet would also add print or TV, said Stan Gerber, executive vice president and media director with the Jerry Levy agency. (The agency includes Cablevision and Rainbow's American Movie Classics as clients, but it doesn't do any work for the cable systems or MetroChannels.)
Gerber, a Metro viewer and New York subscriber, applauded the potential of the partnership, but he can't help being skeptical.
"Here's my problem: For the most part, you don't get people in two media forms," he said. "While the concept is magnificent and, in this case, it really has synergy, I just don't know how easy a sell it's going to be."
Still, that would not keep him from pitching the Internet component to clients with active Web sites or offering a deal that adds print or broadcast. For instance, Old Navy, one of the New Jersey agency's clients, already does some advertising in New York, but not with MetroChannels.
"In that case, New York magazine already has some Old Navy biz, and MetroChannels does not," he said. "It's a perfect example of: How do you add on from one?"
Will one plus one plus one equal success? Stay tuned.