Bud.TV: Ahead of Its Time

November 24, 2009

Editor’s note: This is John Reinan’s weekly marketing column for MinnPost.com. To see the original, go to http://bit.ly/07vMFuu.

One of the most notable flameouts of the new media era was Bud.TV. Launched in early 2007 with great fanfare, the site was an attempt by brewing giant Anheuser-Busch to capture the attention of young beer drinkers through non-traditional means.

Bud.TV would feature edgy, original content– everything from 30-second snippets to half-hour programs. Well-known entertainers like Kevin Spacey and Matt Damon would be involved through their production companies. Users would watch the shows, pass them along to their friends, even contribute their own creations. It was an ambitious undertaking– in essence, the creation of a complete online TV channel.

budtvAnd it landed with a thud. Published reports noted that A-B spent $30 million or more to develop Bud.TV, yet the site never gained traction, gaining only a couple of hundred thousand monthly viewers instead of the 3 million or more it projected.

Bud.TV was basically shut down after three months, although the site continued to limp along for another year or so before A-B officially pulled the plug. A cumbersome registration process — to restrict underage viewing — was a key culprit.

Marketing bloggers jumped all over Anheuser-Busch. With the benefit of hindsight, they pointed out that anyone could have predicted the failure of Bud.TV. But I’d argue that the concept was a sound one, and had the site launched in 2010 instead of 2007, it would have stood a much better chance of succeeding.

Three years is an eternity in Internet time, and Bud.TV simply may have been too far ahead of the curve. Today, those same marketing bloggers are calling on companies to create their own online content channels to reach consumers who have tuned out the traditional media.

And companies are listening. A recent survey by King Fish Media found that 80 percent of the responding companies plan to increase spending on social media in 2010.

It makes a lot of sense, given the ongoing struggles of traditional media in both content creation and advertising.

Traditional media have undergone dramatic cutbacks in recent years; the typical news or consumer media organization has lost a third or more of its editorial staff since 2007. Meanwhile, the challenges of traditional advertising have been well chronicled; consumers increasingly have control over what they choose to read or watch, and that includes ad messages.

If a company can offer relevant content that its customers actually want to see, it can build loyalty as a welcome source, rather than as an uninvited intruder. Whole Foods, for example, has nearly 1.5 million Twitter followers and 150,000 Facebook friends. Those are people who have invited Whole Foods to be part of their social networks.

Just last week, a new online magazine launched in the Tampa Bay area. 83 Degrees is produced by a for-profit company with the backing of more than a dozen sponsors, including corporations as well as several local governments and regional economic development agencies.

“There is so much that is taking place all over Tampa Bay and in downtown Tampa, and there is only so much press space out there for it,” an executive of the Tampa Downtown Partnership told the local business journal.

Some observers are concerned about tax dollars being used to support what they see as a propaganda effort. But when local media no longer have the staff to cover economic development, I don’t see why public budgets shouldn’t be prudently spent on informing the public. If that requires creating a new communications vehicle, so be it.

As for Budweiser, the brand hasn’t given up on social media. It’s continued to engage consumers online– for example, by allowing them to vote on which Super Bowl commercials Budweiser will run.

And I’d be surprised if Budweiser doesn’t take the lessons it learned from Bud.TV and return with a retooled version that wins more widespread acceptance than the first one did.