History Channel's site for Cover-Up!
The Sinking of the S.S. Leopoldville, survivors' families finally found a network for
obtaining more information about loved ones who were lost in the tragic incident on
Christmas Eve, 1944, when the ship was sunk by a German submarine. They also found a voice
for their grief and a chance to bring some sort of closure to the experience.
Web surfers could recall where they were when they saw the
first moon landing at Home Box Office's From the Earth to the Moon Web
On the lighter side, at Comedy Central's site for the Drew Carey Friar's Club
Web users could share a laugh with a "Friar's Club Joke of the Day."
These interactive experiences demonstrate how Web sites
devoted to special-events programming can extend viewers' involvement with programs beyond
their on-air broadcasts. Networks have found that these sites add value by giving space to
issues and information that can't be developed in one- or two-hour blocks, by creating
communities of viewers bound by their interest in subjects and, naturally, by generating
interest in shows.
"Our objectives for the Web site are clear -- to
entertain, to involve viewers and to drive them back to our core business, which is the
channel," said Larry Lieberman, Comedy Central's vice president of strategic planning
and new-business development, who oversees the network's Web site.
"The special programming that we select for the Web
are major anchor events for us," Lieberman added. "They're important to the
on-air schedule, so they become significant to online production: The two go
The sites are as much companions to the programs as they
are promotional vehicles designed to appeal to television viewers seeking a higher level
of involvement with the programs. So in addition to the cast bios and behind-the-scenes
news that a surfer might find at a series site, special-event sites offer more contexts,
such as discussion areas, interviews with subject experts and links to resources for
Comedy Central's Drew Carey site, for example, features
video clips of Carey's stand-up act, as well as videos and stills from the event itself
and links to more information about the history of the Friar's Club.
History's Leopoldville site (www.historychannel.com/leopoldville)
contains a moving firsthand account of the incident by a survivor, additional stories that
couldn't be fully developed in the on-air show and a bulletin board that offers victims'
families a chance to connect with one another.
And HBO's site for Earth to the Moon features a 3-D
flight-simulator game, a glossary of terms used in the show, an interactive tutorial on
the Soviet space program and what was happening there during the period of the Apollo
missions, two discussion areas and more.
"We delivered a Web site that had as much content in
its own way as the series did; it wasn't just a poster site," said Diane Jakacki,
executive producer of HBO.com.
"That would have been an easy way out, but it wouldn't have accomplished the mission
that we were given, which was to blow people away on the Web."
Moreover, unlike Web-site pages that support regular
network series, site sections for special-event programming can stand alone, even after
the program is out of rotation.
HBO's site for the 13-week miniseries remained active for
most of the year, starting in the weeks leading up to the first broadcast in March, and
continuing throughout the fall, with spikes around the Emmy Awards in September and the
series' European premiere in October, Jakacki said.
And family members of the crew of the S.S. Leopoldville were
still posting queries for information about their relatives to that site's bulletin board
up through the end of November.
Programmers said viewers' responses to the sites have
justified the investments. Todd Tarpley, director of new media for A&E Television
Networks in New York, said he plans to post two special exhibits per month at the History
site, such as a forthcoming Star Spangled Banner site that will follow the restoration of
the original United States flag that flew over Baltimore Harbor. That site will accompany
an upcoming show on the restoration, but it will feature content that will not be included
in the program, he said.
In November, HBO launched a site for its original movie
about gossip columnist Walter Winchell, Winchell, by Webcasting a live panel
discussion about celebrities and the press. The streamed audio remained up on the Winchell
after the Webcast, and the site also featured personal reminiscences about the writer and
a glossary of the unique vocabulary that he created about his subjects.
The success of the sites has pushed programmers to develop
Web sites for their off-air special events, as well. Comedy Central created a special
venue for the release of its South Park compact disc with video clips that are not
available on-air. And Nickelodeon has a
special site dedicated to the new Rugrats movie (www.nickelodeon.com/rugrats.tin)
where users can create their own babies, review the film and play other games.
David Vogler, vice president and creative director of Nickelodeon Online in New York, said the site launched over
the summer, and it is averaging 25 million page views per month. More than 8 million
babies have been created.
"We wanted to help build awareness for the upcoming
movie, and also to build a home for fans of the Rugrats," Vogler said.
"It captures the spirit behind the show, but, like the movie, it offers a richer,
grander experience. Most movie sites become obsolete on the day that the movie opens, but
this site was engineered from the get-go to be an evolving, living site that will go on
after the debut of the film."
Whether special-event-programming sites inspire new viewers
to tune in for the programming, or whether they just expand the experience for viewers who
would watch anyway, remains a question. The majority of user discussion on bulletin boards
and in other interactive areas at these sites suggests that site visitors are already
familiar with the programs, network officials said.
"It's more clear that the programming is driving
people to the Web site," Jakacki said. "I suspect that the Web site is having a
stronger impact on viewership than viewership is having on the Web site, but there's no
way to prove that."
Jakacki added that the vast majority of visitors to HBO.com appear to be HBO subscribers or cable
customers seeking information about how to subscribe. Similarly, at History's Web site, 80
percent of the traffic comes from the network's viewers, Tarpley said.
Conversely, he noted, this means that 20 percent of the
traffic is from people coming to the site for features such as the Leopoldville
pages, which illustrates the benefit of special-programming sites to cable operators.
"They bring people to the brands," Tarpley said.
"If all that we put up for a show like Leopoldville was a big online poster,
we wouldn't get that other 20 percent of traffic by nonviewers. And we probably wouldn't
get the other 80 percent, either."