Entertaindom: Bold concept, but....

Time Warner's new site takes online content in fresh directions, but could still suffer the same fate as Pathfinder.

Time Warner's new Entertaindom.com takes a bold step towards the future of online entertainment, but may still fare no better than its predecessor, Pathfinder.

That was the assessment of observers after Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) Digital Media launched its bleeding edge entertainment portal site Monday. Entertaindom.com creates a potential mecca for young adult interactive viewers. It will feature a variety of content, but the real draw are 10 new serials, including "webisodes" starring DC Comics' Superman, "The God and Devil Show," which is an animated "talk" show, and the cult character show "Dr. Science."

Ken Lim, senior futurist at CyberMedia Convergence Consulting in Cupertino, Calif., thinks that Entertaindom will suffer, at least initially, because most consumers don't have high-speed Net connections.

"It's going to have to wait a year or two, when more people have the high-speed connections that are going to be required for this thing," said Lim.

At the same time, Lim praised the site's content offerings.

"The concept is great. You want something that is entertainment, pop culture," Lim said.

Download in the dumps
Visitors to the site experienced choppy connections to the site on Monday, reporting crashes and 404 "page not found" messages, which often signals overloaded servers.

Analysts were also disappointed at the requirements to enter the site, including the need to download Macromedia Inc.'s Flash player and a proprietary player called Brilliant Projector.

"It doesn't matter how much cool stuff is on their site if users aren't going to wait through the many downloads to access it," predicted Aram Sinnreich, an analyst at Jupiter Communications in New York. "Users have to take it on faith that the content is going to warrant the many downloads."

Easy to navigate
Jim Moloshok, president of Warner Bros. Online, thinks consumers will want what Entertaindom.com has to offer.

"There's a built-in audience with Superman, a devotion to this character," Moloshok said. "If they would like to see Superman in 3D it is worth it to download the engine. If it's made easy enough, they will do it. They will wait. They see the value, if that's the only way they can experience the brands and characters they like most."

Moloshok also said that the site was simple to use, and that would prevent consumers from giving up on it.

"We make it simple for the consumer to use," Moloshok said. "The idea is to make it fun and enjoyable, and people come back to be entertained again and again."

Entertaindom.com is certainly a far cry from the now defunct Pathfinder.com portal, which linked to Time Warner magazines like Time, Life and Sports Illustrated. While that site garnered plenty of traffic, it could not generate enough revenue to make money.

Keith Richards, Gandhi and Santa
"The God and Devil Show" features animated talk show hosts who interview a famous "guest" each week. The inaugural guest is a weathered and mumbling former Rolling Stone Keith Richards. At the end of the interview, viewers can decide to send the guest to heaven or hell, and a new dialog is born, depending on what consumers choose.

Next week, the talk show will feature Gandhi, who hawks his own body-building formula and morphs into an Arnold Schwarzenegger clone. The third show will feature Santa Claus, who's struggling with an elf labor dilemma. Among the show's interactive features is a toll-free number fans can call to comment on the shows, with some comments appearing online the following week.

The concept of interactivity has spawned the "multipath" concept, giving viewers the choice in how each episode plays out, thereby providing a different experience for each viewer, and a launching pad for dialog between viewers in fan chat rooms and newsgroups.

Users also will get direct input into the plot, effectively letting them control the action, Moloshok said.

For instance, in the Superman episodes, users will get to decide whether to save Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen from the villain, clicking on a button to dictate the action.

The site also features Looney Toons exclusively online in streaming video, Marvin the Martian cartoons, entertainment news from Entertainment Weekly, CNN, Reuters and Variety, movie reviews, hit lists, critic polls and personalization features.

E-commerce potential
Kevin Berneister, president of Brilliant Digital Entertainment, a producer of several of the 10 programs that are launched or about to be launched, says the site is banking on a bright future with the model, hoping that the weekly "webisodes" will keep users coming back for more.

The future will bring more "interstitial" advertising, and later, seamless ecommerce with content. For example, Bermeister says Brilliant is working on creating clickable content, in which Superman's cape could be clicked during an episode, and a viewer could link to a site to purchase a similar cape.