Video has been catching a lot more eyes online in the past year. Both Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) and Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) have experimented with original video shows and short films, and several TV networks have begun promoting new series by streaming full episodes online. But these efforts appear meager compared to an initiative announced today by Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX ) America Online. The move is a Foolish use of company assets, but it's not clear how many will be watching.
AOL and Warner Bros. Cable will offer free streaming access to 4,800 episodes from 100 shows not currently in syndication. The In2TV network begins broadcasting on AOL's site early next year. This impressive start could be expanded to as many as 14,000 episodes from 300 different series, according to Reuters. The online outfit claims the Warner Bros.-produced programs will be webcast in DVD quality with the help of a downloadable plug-in. In addition, the programming will be paired with interactive features like games, polls, and trivia.
The plan certainly makes good use of company property. Time Warner gets to recycle some moribund content for more advertising revenue. The video-enhancing plug-in is sponsored by General Motors (NYSE: GM ) , which will stream 15-second ads. Furthermore, each 30-minute show will be sprinkled with one to two minutes of advertising that the viewer cannot fast-forward through.
Sounds great -- but who's going to watch? There are doubtlessly hardcore fans out there dying to see old episodes of Welcome Back, Kotter or Wonder Woman. And some of the shows may even find a new following among the younger set. However, it's hard to imagine In2TV really taking off in its current form. The videos are streamed, so viewers are shackled to the computer. Thirty minutes is a long time to tie up a PC for passive viewing, especially if you have to put up with ads. What's more, there's a reason these shows aren't on TV anymore -- many just don't appeal to the bulk of the viewing audience.
Nevertheless, AOL has to be applauded for the boldness of its move. In2TV probably will generate a significant initial increase in traffic. And it could be refined over time, perhaps by offering shorter clips of the best moments from beloved shows. At the very least, AOL has pushed online video to a new level.
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Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.