DANA POINT, Calif.--For an event populated with digital media's self-styled futurists, there is a whole lot of talk at the WebbyConnect conference about a defunct television network.
Marketers, ad gurus, and production types alike showed a notable level of interest in TheWB.com, a video site launched by Warner Bros. this summer as a digital replacement for the youth-oriented television network that it shut down in 2006. Available on the new site are archived Warner Bros. shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson's Creek, as well as new just-for-the-Web series like Sorority Forever, which stars Jessica Rose of Lonelygirl15 fame. There's some mild hype building about a new one, the medical-drama spoof Children's Hospital, created by Daily Show comedian Rob Corddry.
In addition to having the Web hub, TheWB syndicates content to an array of partners like Veoh, Joost, TiVo, and Sling, adopting the "be everywhere" strategy that many big media companies have signed onto for their digital strategies.
Has it been an overnight sensation? No. "I was very excited about it. I have been less excited about it as I tried to keep tuning in," New York Times columnist Virginia Heffernan said on Wednesday morning as she moderated a panel about Hollywood's rough adjustment to the digital age.
But what WebbyConnect speakers and attendees were upbeat about is the possibility that this is an online video business model that could actually work in the long run. That's because it has a library of titles with decades-long cult followings, not to mention a commitment to creating edgy new content from established entertainment figures who want to make a splash on the Web. And it has a target audience--a possible solution to the concerns of advertisers who are skeptical of YouTube because they just don't know who's watching--and the ever-important social-networking tie-in via Facebook Connect.
Conveniently, one of Thursday's speakers was Mark D'Arcy, chief creative officer of Time Warner Global Media Group, and he spent a good amount of time discussing TheWB.com. "If you're going to start a network for 18- to 34-year-olds in 2008, where would you start?" he asked hypothetically. "You would start online."
D'Arcy said that 1.2 million people watched the premiere of Sorority Forever in its first week. He held up the network's product-placement strategy, like a partnership with retailer H&M in which the Sorority Forever characters go shopping there.
But at the same time, he echoed the message of uncertainty and experimentalism that so many WebbyConnect speakers kept bringing up. "In Hollywood nobody knows anything," D'Arcy said. "We all have theories, and the world changes so quickly, and we try to adapt."