Along with being entertained, what can we learn from them?
Over the years, and long before the Web entered into the mix, people have become very attached to their programs. While the networks may, and perhaps still do, have some trepidation about copyright issues and online file sharing, they've also realized that the Web gives them even more opportunities to get in front of their audiences.
The networks and shows aren't limited to the 30 or 60 minutes a week any more. The Web provides a 24-7 connection, and thanks to mobile access, nearly unlimited potential. But just like any other business, success on the Web isn't guaranteed. Let's take a look at three examples across the three major broadcast networks.
ABC's Ugly Betty is the newest of the three, but already seems to have developed that strong following that it takes to make it. Fans can go to the site and watch full episodes, clips, check out photos, get caught up to speed on past episodes, and check out star bios.
Of course, even that is pretty old school these days. What really keeps it interesting though is when we get more interactive--message boards, RSS feeds, podcasts, downloads, and designing your own "scrapblog" photo album, giving fans a chance to further integrate Ugly Betty into their everyday lives.
CBS's CSI carries even more weight due to the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, and CSI: NY versions. CSI provides many of the same elements--providing ways for fans to interact with each other as well as background on the actors, and like Ugly Betty, even getting backstory on the characters themselves.
But CSI gets even further Web 2.0 with the addition of The Official CSI: Wiki that allows fans to provide information and their own insight into the episodes and characters. And how about the CSI Handbook, providing detailed information in key areas of evidence, tools, and procedures, allowing die-hard fans every opportunity to geek-out and further immerse themselves.
CSI: Miami even brings in a mobile game to tap into that demographic as well.
And what about CSI: NY crossing over into the Second Life virtual experience or the Eyecons feature that gives fans an interactive game experience that further intertwines the show with the Web.
While not everyone can identify with CSI or Ugly Betty, surely most of us have had an office experience, which is perhaps what draws so many to NBC's The Office. The crazy boss, the irritating co-worker, the uncomfortable office situations...The Office exposes all that at an extreme level.
The Office has many of the same elements of the other shows, but goes even further. Not only can you find special motivational posters like we've all seen in offices everywhere...needless to say, these are probably not your office posters.
But The Office also has its own video widget to let fans bring a little of The Office experience into their own Web site or blog. The Office also blurs the lines between fantasy and reality with character blogs, "Schrute-Space" and "Creed Thoughts." Amazing that so many companies still haven't adopted blogging, and here, two fictional characters have their own blogs.
The Office didn't just stop there. Dunder Mifflin, the fictional company in the show, took their episode of the dinosaur paper company getting hip and modern with the launch of their new Web presence...Dunder Mifflin Infinity. So why stop there though when you can really launch the Web site for this fictional company--literally an online social media venue in itself. Fans can join the company, buy company merchandise, and even compete against other branch offices in weekly tasks.
What all of these have in common of course is that they've adopted the Web as a tool to further connect with their fans. But they've gone beyond just a few photos and bios; they've given fans an environment to interact with not only each other, but the shows themselves. They've captured the essence of social media in providing a venue for participation.