Warner Bros. TV Teams With Essence Magazine On New Site, Broadband-to-TV Plans

This story was written by David Kaplan.
Warner Bros. TV Group is partnering with its Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) sibling Essence magazine on a series of online and broadcast moves, starting with a revamped, video-heavy website for the pub this summer.  Then, jumping off from the new Essence.com, WBTVG will work on turning the site's broadband programming into series for television. As for the site's advertising inventory, Essence.com's sales staff will continue to lead most of the deals, with assistance from the Warner Bros. digital media sales team, as part of its efforts to build up its women's network.

The site, like the magazine, is focused toward black women between 18 and 49, and mainly offers lifestyle features. Over the past year, the site, as part of parent Time Inc.'s greater digital push, has already placed considerable emphasis on online video, particularly with its two romance-based interactive reality series, Will You Marry Me?," and 30 Dates in 30 Days. But the hope of connecting its online video with TV is a new goal. WBTVG's Telepictures production and syndicated distribution arm will work directly with Essence on developing programming on the site and on attaching its brand to new original TV series as well.

The first show to get the online video treatment is an off-shoot of the syndicated celebrity news show Extra. The new Extra on Essence broadband series will have a related blog and is going to run as a regular feature within the print mag's entertainment section. Several other digital shows are still in development. As for the site itself, Essence Director of Digital Development Lesley Pinckney will oversee sales and marketing, as well as site development. The new site's first hire is Darryl Dye, who previously worked on sales for AOL Black Voices, as Essence's digital account director. Several WBTVG and Essence execs spoke with paidContent about the deal, which is part of Time Inc.'s overall digital expansion. More after the jump.

-- Targeting the African-American female market: While WBTVG might focus primarily on TV, the work that Telepictures has done on broadband sites related to its syndicated broadcast programming, such as The Tyra Banks Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, as well as TMZ.com, was enough to impress Essence, said Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications. "As we started talking about our mutual projects, it became clear that we would both benefit from working together." Lisa Hackner, EVP, creative affairs for Telepictures, added: "The digital space for African-American women is completely under served and as we're trying to expand our digital content offerings, this seemed like a natural fit." On the ad side, Michael Teicher, EVP-media sales, describes Essence.com as the "key component" in WB's women's vertical ad network; the network includes Mob Logic, Ellen, Tyra, Extra and 32 affiliate sites.

-- Not just TV anymore: Although the letters "TV" make up the Warner Bros. unit's name, WBTVG president Bruce Rosenblum said that the group has a wider mission these days. "For the last several years, we haven't considered ourselves as simply being in the TV business. We view ourselves as being in the content business, and whether that content is delivered over the television screen or for the cell phone or a computer, that distinction doesn't matter." Still, the connection between broadband and broadcast is viewed as a centerpiece of the partnership. Telepictures president Hilary Estey McLoughlin added: "The goal is to experiment with a variety of different web content and see what works. But ultimately, we would like to come up with ways to create opportunities for Essence-branded specials for cable and broadcast, as well as broadband and mobile."

-- More ime Inc. titles to follow: The revamping of Essence's website is part of an overall expansion of Time Inc. Essence's Ebanks: "It's all about the digital transformation of Time Inc. in general. You'll continue to see similar announcements coming out of the Time Inc. group."


By David Kaplan