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TV Continues to Move Online

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That's clearly the philosophy of the big TV networks, as they increasingly look to the Internet to build loyalty and keep fans interested in their prime-time offerings.

After years of pretending the Internet didn't exist and reluctantly spending the minimum required to establish a token web presence, NBC, CBS and Fox now won't launch a show without considerable investment in a supporting web site.

Take the popular NBC series Heroes. Previously, the network made clips available through Hulu, a free video streaming site it supports along with nearly 200 other content providers. Now, full-length episodes are available on a dedicated Heroes web site just hours after their Monday night TV screening. The web site also features photos, recaps, cast commentaries, message boards and games, as well as a variety of full-length and abbreviated episodes from all four seasons.

NBC repeats this online experience with all of its hit shows, including 30 Rock, The Office, The  Biggest Loser, and The Jay Leno Show. Instead of jealously guarding its content and forcing fans to religiously turn on the TV at the appointed time, they are making their shows available 24/7, allowing the viewer to choose both the schedule and the viewing platform.

Part of this is dictated by practicality – millions of viewers have some kind of DVR and are already making their own schedules – and part is a result of the networks fight to keep their hands on as many advertising dollars as they can. Building in-house web sites allows them to incorporate a much-needed Internet component into their overall ad packages.

But how will the fans respond? Are we ready to abandon the TV for the computer screen? Well, maybe not in huge numbers just yet but, if our kids are any guide, we are heading in that direction. Children don't seem to distinguish between screens or platforms when it comes to entertainment and, as far as they are concerned, the Internet often delivers a better community experience and more games!

The TV web site that currently has the most traffic? Nickelodean's SpongeBob SquarePants!

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