Perhaps you caught the two quick ads last night on the SuperBowl; today is the official launch of Bud.TV, a new Web video site developed by Budweiser. This free site boasts a variety of original content developed just for this new Internet “channel”. A number of current and former Saturday Night Live members are among those tapped for some of the characters, so there are recognizable names and faces involved. Many of the “episodes” are just a few minutes long: longer than a commercial, but shorter than a typical sitcom.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so it will take time before the audience passes judgment on the quality of the content. Some of it is familiar sketch-based comedy, some is animated, and some is more or less reality-based. (That is, if you can call letting a chimp try to do your job “reality”.) The fact is that there will be hundred of episodes of a variety of shows that you can view, both live and on demand. Registration is required even though the site is free; aside from marketing reasons, Anheiser-Busch is making an attempt to see that viewers are 21 or older. (And this strikes me as a little strange, because you don’t have to be 21 to watch their ads on broadcast television, but I can understand their caution.)
The big story here is that this is a major piece of spaghetti thrown on the wall of trying to figure out how to pay for content in the new age of television. Rather than sponsor content produced and published by other companies, Budweiser is aiming to cut out the middle man and deliver their own content directly. It remains to be seen how actively they market their products within the content itself; early reports indicate that it ranges from blatant to subtle to not there at all, depending on the show. But this is an important experiment. Just like the memorable Hallmark productions of the early days of television, it may be that we’re going back to the future with the sponsors taking charge of the production and distribution of the entertainment content. If this works, it may be that we’ll see a lot fewer beer commercials on broadcast television.