TV catches the Net video bug

In a role reversal, TV producers are searching the Web for hot videos.

Dirty secret or not, the Web has long been a platform for downloading and watching pirated clips of television shows like "Lost" and "The Simpsons," much to the chagrin of the television networks.

But now TV producers are turning the tables, creating new shows around video clips culled from the Web.

Bravo TV is among the pioneers of the genre. This week, it began airing a new half-hour series called "Outrageous and Contagious: Viral Video," a show featuring the most popular video shorts circulating the Net, including parodies of the gay-cowboy movie "Brokeback Mountain" and clips of President George Bush's many verbal faux pas. It could be likened to a digital-age version of the old bloopers TV shows.


What's new:
TV producers have begun searching for videos produced and distributed by Internet users.

Bottom line:
The producers' search on the Web for marketable videos--and the ubiquity of broadband connections and video hardware and software--underscores the convergence of the Internet and traditional media. Compared with financing a regular television series, culling material from the Web is a relatively inexpensive way to develop programming.

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USA Networks, Fox and NBC are producing similar programming in the coming months. And ABC News Digital plans to enhance its television news program by drawing on video captured by viewers using cellular phones.

"No one can say this is a niche genre, because my mom is e-mailing me (Internet) videos, as is my nephew," said Andy Cohen, vice president of programming and production for Bravo TV, a unit of NBC Universal.

The Internet-inspired programming is yet another sign of the long-anticipated convergence between the Web and traditional media. Now that viewers, particularly young audiences, spend more time online on average than with any other media, TV producers are hunting for new programming that will play on the Web's popularity while redirecting interest back to the tube.

It's happening now for a combination of reasons. Broadband in American homes is stoking demand for media-rich entertainment online. Low-cost video equipment and editing software are making it easy for people to create their own short films or mini-features. Emerging services from Google, Brightcove and others are delivering the tools to upload, circulate or even sell video online. And TV networks now want to help deliver a mass audience for that video during prime time.

For TV producers, it's simply a cheap way to develop a show. In the classic model of programming production, content producers would invest a lot of money upfront to create a pilot show and test it with audiences. By patrolling the Internet, TV producers can draw on material that's already proved popular with online audiences and put it on TV with comparatively little investment.

"It's almost as if networks have cheap labor now for creating

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