SBJ/Jan. 31-Feb. 6, 2011/Media

Fox moves online shows to television channels

Fox Sports’ online experiment “Lunch With Benefits” is beginning to pay off for some of Fox’s TV channels.

Fox Sports began moving some of the more popular FoxSports.com shows to its TV channels earlier this month. It started showing the online comedy series “Cubed” on Fuel on Friday at midnight. After its first few episodes on Fuel, it has become the channel’s top-rated show, according to Fox Sports Media Group’s Chairman and CEO David Hill.

“‘Lunch With Benefits’ has evolved into a laboratory,” Hill said. “‘Cubed’ is now existing very happily in a traditional linear broadcast platform.”

The success of “Cubed” on television has persuaded Fox to try out some of its other online shows on TV. It’s planning to move “College Experiment” to Fuel and “Coach Speak” with Brian Billick to Fox Sports Net over the next few weeks.

All the shows will remain part of FoxSports.com’s “Lunch With Benefits” programming block that unveils new shows every day at 1 p.m. ET, which Hill says continues to serve its purpose.

Fox launched the block of online video programming in December 2009 as a way to increase user engagement on FoxSports.com. Through Fox’s deal with MSN, Fox Sports stories were featured on MSN’s home page. That meant lots of clicks from casual sports fans interested in a specific headline. But it also meant much lower levels of engagement — those users didn’t stay on the FoxSports.com site for any substantial length of time, which made it especially difficult to sell advertising around it.

“We were not a basis for browsing, but were a curiosity satisfier,” Hill said. “That was what I had to change dramatically.”

Hill decided to put a TV-style schedule of video programs on the website — a new one uploaded every weekday at lunchtime. The series starred Fox Sports’ on-air personalities like Jay Glazer and Billick. They also tried to develop new stars, like the cast of “Cubed,” which Hill created as a “new kind of talk show.”

The result is that the average time users are spending on FoxSports.com has gone past 8 minutes a session. And it’s opened Hill’s eyes to the possibilities of Internet video. “It proved that people actually watched,” he said. “It gets back to everything: how compelling it is and how much time they’ve got to watch.”

In the near term, Fox Sports is going to stick with its “Lunch With Benefits” plan online. Hill doesn’t have any plans to produce events online, at least not immediately, or to roll out dedicated broadband channels.

“I’d love to have a crystal ball and look 10 or 15 years ahead and see if that is a business,” he said. “I don’t believe you can sustain it with a traditional advertising model. It has to be subscription. Therefore, you have to ask yourself, If I’m prepared to pay X dollars per month for a magazine, am I prepared to pay, as an individual, X number of dollars for a broadband channel? If so, what is that?”

Hill said Fox would continue to experiment with producing online video, but he said television production will continue to be the main priority for the foreseeable future.

“We are in a period where I don’t think anyone has a clue where it’s going to go,” Hill said. “I will tell you that television as we know it is going to be around for an awfully long time. I cannot see that changing at all. If you don’t believe that, the one business that should have gone away is radio. Radio’s not as profitable as it was. Television is probably not going to be as profitable. But watching entertainment is a passive activity. It’s not consumed through mobility. It’s sitting down and watching on the biggest screen you can with the best audio you can.”

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