America Online and Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution are launching a broadband network that will give a new lease on life to a slew of vintage TV series.
Dubbed "In2TV," the network will serve up Welcome Back Kotter, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Pinky and the Brain, and Growing Pains among a host of other Warner-owned shows that viewers can watch in their entirety, for free and on-demand, beginning in January.
Each show is presented with interactive elements, games, competitions and additional content to take advantage of the medium's unique capabilities.
About 14,000 episodes from 300 different series have been cleared to be part of the service, a process that has taken two years, Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution president Eric Frankel said. This represents about a third of the relevant catalog, and more programs are being cleared each day.
"This service will bring an unprecedented collection of popular TV series to a totally new platform, revolutionizing the distribution of television programming," he said. "We think the next evolution of television is a multiplex broadcast network like this, with interactive and other components."
In2TV initially will offer shows organized into six channels, with at least two more being added during the first few months. None of the programming on In2TV will be available anywhere else during its broadband run.
"Just one click and it's any show you want, right there on your screen," Frankel said. "Like your video store, it's laid out by genre, but it looks like an interactive electronic program guide."
AOL Media Networks executive vice president Kevin Conroy said that in its first year, In2TV will offer more than 3,400 hours of programming, made up of at least 300 episodes each month drawn from more than 100 separate television series.
"We knew we wanted to innovate here and let TV viewers experience programming in an entirely new way," Conroy said. "This is a new platform for distribution and an opportunity for Web users to experience this programming that's never been possible before."
In addition to the shows, numerous original short features will be part of In2TV. At launch, these will include Starchive, showcasing stars before they became famous, like Brad Pitt's appearance on Growing Pains; TV Karaoke, sing-alongs with television theme songs; RetroRunway, a spotlight on fashions of the day; and Where Are They Now?
Fans also will be able to search the series by show titles, cast names, and other key words and phrases.
Many shows will be presented alongside interactive activities. Growing Pains viewers, for example, can choose to play an '80s trivia game that awards winners with a free song download from AOL Music. Viewers of the '70s ABC drama Kung Fu also can play a "Snatch the Pebble" game that unlocks specially filmed expert martial arts commentary.
The viewing quality is better than satellite or cable-delivered programming, Conroy said, and it enables full-screen viewing, as well as DVD-quality picture, when viewed on a networked television screen.
The network is supported by advertising and sponsorship, including both instream broadband spots and surrounding areas. Instream 15- and 30-second spots will be limited to a total of two minutes within each 30-minute episode, compared with eight minutes of advertising on broadcast television.
Conroy said that each show will allow chapter-marking and fast-forwarding, except for during ads.
Frankel had no concerns about cannibalizing Warner Bros.' other operations. "The industry has a history of launching new businesses and have found that they've been additive," he said. "DVD, for instance, has been a winner for anyone who ever created a negative."
In2TV's initial six channels are LOL TV, featuring such shows as Kotter, Chico and the Man, and Perfect Strangers; Dramarama TV, showcasing such series as Sisters, Falcon Crest, Spenser: For Hire, and Eight Is Enough; Toontopia TV, with Freakazoid, Brain, Histeria!, The New Adventures of Batman, and other animated series; Heroes and Horrors TV, a home for Lois & Clark, Babylon 5, Wonder Woman, and more; Rush TV, featuring such shows as La Femme Nikita, Kung Fu, and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.; and Vintage TV, a showcase for Growing Pains, Alice, F Troop, Maverick, and other classics.