Syndicating Web content is the next big thing

The TV model of barter syndication is back on the Internet, and here's some words of advice: Get used to it.What's barter syndication, you ask?

The TV model of barter syndication is back on the Internet, and here's some words of advice: Get used to it.

What's barter syndication, you ask? In the TV world, it means taking high-profile programs like "Seinfeld" or "Oprah" and giving them to the top station in a market for free or for a small cash license. The syndicator then gains a powerful network over which to sell advertising.

On the Web, it means syndicating content to different Web sites and then selling advertising. Time Warner tried it with Pathfinder back in 1997 and failed, due to both licensing problems with the content and Web sites that didn't want to do business with a competitor.

But a former Pathfinder executive named Andrew Sussman is re-introducing the concept with a vengeance. Sussman heads a small New York company called StudioOne Networks, which is creating the content itself to sidestep those thorny licensing issues. And because he hasn't created a destination Web site, he isn't competing with his distributors.

"We're the next generation King World," says Sussman, invoking the name of the TV barter syndicator which distributes "Oprah," "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy."

StudioOne has two "made for Internet programs" in distribution now, "Driving Today" and "Gamers Today," both sponsored by Honda and its agency, Rubin Postaer Interactive in Santa Monica, Calif. A third "program," in the parenting category, has already found a large sponsor from that category.

So far, StudioOne says its distribution partners include The Double Click Network, ESPN Infoseek Racing, and the Cablevision EZ Seek Auto Channel. Not up to King World standards yet, but a start.

The advent of Studio One is intriguing because it could herald a new era of Internet content. When TV was invented back in the 1940s and 1950s, most programming was created directly by advertisers. Large sponsors and their agencies all had radio and TV units that produced TV programming. The advertisers were completely integrated into the shows, down to the name, what's called "title sponsorship" today. Typically, a program would be called "The Lucky Strike Hour" or something similar, the sponsor being more important than the programming.

StudioOne wants to keep its content a little more separated from the client. Honda content does appear as an icon on Driving Today, but it's clearly labeled a sponsorship. Driving Today is an editorially driven car site put together by former Motor Trend editor Jack Nerad.

The key in barter syndication is that the syndicator manages to put together a network that reaches a majority of the country, typically 70 or 80 percent of TV households. The Internet is different, and the success of the StudioOne network will depend on the number of page views and other reach elements Sussman can put together for each one of his "programs."

StudioOne has at least nine more such programs in development, across a variety of content categories. Figure out the major Internet advertising categories, and you've probably figured out what the categories are. Advertisers have been looking for an alternative to banners -- maybe syndication can supply it.


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