NBC may be late to the social networking soiree, but it may wind up being fashionably late and bringing a tasty artichoke dip. The General Electric
NBC is alone. It's on the outside looking in. If you ask me, I think that's a pretty good place to be. You can't beat the view and the chance to learn from the mistakes of others.
Over the weekend, the always-provocative Tech Crunch blog unearthed a deleted blog entry by NBC Digital Media's Sab Kanaujia, VP of Digital Innovation. In the entry, Kanaujia detailed his company's approach to social networking.
Despite some advice from a venture capitalist bigwig that suggested making a big splash with a stand-alone social networking site like MySpace or Facebook, Kanaujia's slant seems to be to build social networking features on top of the existing online presence of its properties.
Kanaujia is right. You don't reinvent the wheel. Your best approach is to litter the information superhighway with nails and thumbtacks and then provide an alternate form of transportation to make your site the sticky hub of choice.
Enjoying the silence
FOX has been very careful to keep its MySpace destination wild and out of the influence of its televised properties. Like Google's
Would NBC love to have the nearly 40 billion monthly page views that MySpace is generating for FOX? Sure, but not having that gives NBC the luxury of starting from scratch with a blank slate instead of being tempted by the forbidden low-lying fruit.
Just think about the possibilities.
Picture a community site for The Office where registered guests can hang out in a virtual Dunder-Mifflin. They can share their workplace horror stories or their views on inter-office romance, but there's more to it than that. Personality quizzes that help you discover the cast member that you resemble the most? Sure, and don't forget the related avatar that visitors will be able to use as a signature file elsewhere. A weekly game casts you as a Dunder-Mifflin intern with a specific task to complete? Of course.
NBC has an opening here. That's what she said. Now it's up to Kanaujia to see if crafting the logical online watering hole for millions of fans can somehow be transformed into a major destination that will ultimately feed into job listings and selling office supplies in a few years. Oh, it can happen. Just because you haven't seen it doesn't make it impossible.
The biggest winner
NBC is already taking steps in that direction. The network's site for The Biggest Loser isn't just an informational site for the reality series. The site offers community features, a viewer photo gallery, and a diet center complete with recipes and online weight loss calculators.
It doesn't have to end there. Every show, even if it's only a specialty hit, can feed into a vibrant community of like-minded users. The site for Heroes already features graphic novels, a message board, and rudimentary games. With the superhero series gaining traction, what's to stop it from teaming up with an online video game to unleash an addictive multiplayer fantasy game? Why isn't NBC's site for Friday Night Lights the new hub for high school football coverage?
NBC can't dabble in online gambling, but why can't its site for Las Vegas be a lucrative portal to booking vacation packages to Sin City and sharing poker table war stories? Call NBC, Expedia
Deal or no deal?
There's a flaw in Kanaujia's plan. No matter how excited I can get about gravitating audiences toward NBC with property-specific sites, what happens when a show gets canned?
Every party has to end sometime, but what do you do when you've allowed fans to bond at an even deeper level than the letter-writing campaign notch of fandom? Fear Factor was off last fall's schedule. What if NBC had erected a site loaded with viral stunt videos and extreme sports blogs that the community isn't ready to let go? Woe to the demise of the virtual Central Perk coffeehouse that would have had to shoo away its patrons with the end of Friends. Can the communities live on in that awkward retro state? That would be tricky.
Will we get to the point, in a year or two, in which a successful site will save the show? Even worse, will we get to the point, in two to three years, when a pilot show gets picked up on the premise of the kind of website that it can serve as the backbone to? If so, will NBC find itself making the wrong programming decisions?
Thinking it through a different way, maybe that's the kind of move that would lead to the right programming decisions. The tail is wagging the dog -- the fashionably late rhinestone-studded tail.
Disney and Priceline.com have been recommended to Stock Advisor subscribers.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz doesn't watch as much NBC as he used to, though he always makes the time to catch the folks at Dunder-Mifflin. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. He does own shares in Disney. The Fool has a disclosure policy.