Warner Brothers is preparing a major new Internet service that will let fans watch full episodes from more than 100 old television series. The service, called In2TV, will be free, supported by advertising, and will start early next year. More than 4,800 episodes will be made available online in the first year.
The move will give Warner a way to reap new advertising revenue from a huge trove of old programming that is not widely syndicated.
Programs on In2TV will have one to two minutes of commercials for each half-hour episode, compared with eight minutes in a standard broadcast. The Internet commercials cannot be skipped.
America Online, which is making a broad push into Internet video, will distribute the service on its Web portal. Both it and Warner Brothers are Time Warner units. An enhanced version of the service will use peer-to-peer file-sharing technology to get the video data to viewers.
Warner, with 800 television programs in its library, says it is the largest TV syndicator. It wants to use the Internet to reach viewers rather than depend on the whims of cable networks and local TV stations, said Eric Frankel, the president of Warner Brothers' domestic cable distribution division.
This actually does sound far superior to traditional syndication, for the simple reason that the lower number of commercials will (at least, I hope) allow the episodes to be presented uncut. And at a time when most older shows are not shown on TV, and some of them can't profitably be released on DVD, putting them on the internet seems like a good use of the material, as well as a way to make the stuff accessible again.
How good the service turns out to be will depend in part on which shows are available and how many episodes of each are made available through the service. If WB offers all the episodes of these series, it'll be a tremendously valuable service. Even the Museum of Television and Radio only has four or five episodes of most series; for somebody trying to write, say, a long-winded blog post on an old TV show, being able to access every episode online would be a nice development. Hopefully this will turn out to be a useful service, and other studios will follow suit.
And I still remember only a few years back I was writing to VHS collectors asking them if they could send me their tapes of cancelled series X so I could write about it. Though I will miss some of the commercials that turned up on those tapes -- you'd never guess what depraved lives some used-car dealers lead....
Update: This article in "Information Week" lists some of the series that will initially be available.