Last week I received an email I had been looking forward to for a while. “Come on in!” The message read, “You’ve been approved to join the beta group for TheWB.com.”
As a big fan of Hulu, the clean and simple NBC/Fox video Shangri-La that I have all but developed an emotional dependence upon, I was elated to gain access to a site that promised to be a clone the with Warner-produced content that I love such as The OC (don’t judge) and Veronica Mars.
My hands shaky with anticipation, I log into the site for the first time and immediately notice that it is the aesthetic antithesis of Hulu. I am greeted with blaring surfer-rock that accompanies a promo video for Aussie TV hit Blue Water High. The mood of the site is reminiscent of a 9th grader’s MySpace page.
My high hopes for the site no longer quite as high, I press on. I am here for the videos, after all. I find my way to the page that displays the menu of programs the site has to offer. I see WB hits like One Tree Hill, Gilmore Girls, Buffy (which is also on Hulu), Smallville, and The Wayans Bros. Shows aired elsewhere like Friends, All of Us, and The OC are there as well. Finally there’s a selection of “WB Originals” – more on that later.
The selection almost makes good on what was promised. But where’s Veronica Mars? Roswell? Everwood? (Note: Veronica Mars is available on the site but it not yet listed in the navigation menu.)
A bit disappointed at the absence of Veronica, I check out The OC. The selection consists of the first five episodes of the third season. All shows are limited to a small selection for now, many of which don’t start at the beginning of the series. Let’s hope a more complete offering becomes available before a wider launch. A few episodes from the middle of a long-arc serilaized drama would irritate more users than not having the show at all, and irritating beta users is not a good idea.
The video plays smoothly and at relatively high quality after a short buffer period on my 3 Mbps connection. There are no ads in the videos or elsewhere on the site for now. But according to Multichannel News, Warner plans to sell ad space in and around the content.
The player features an email/embed function which allows you to share the whole episode or a customized selection, a button that lets you share clips using their Facebook app, a sweet dialogue search that you can use to find your way to a particular line spoken by a particular character in a paticular episode even at a particular setting, and some sort of remix/mashup tool called WBlender that is not yet available. There are also full screen and pop-out viewing options.
Here’s an annoying autoplay embed from TheWB.com:
Here’s the same video from Hulu:
In addition to the familiar shows, TheWB.com has a section devoted to news about celebrities from shows with video provided by WB-owned TMZ.com. There’s also a bunch of show-themed games like Gimore Girls trivia and a One Tree Hill personality-matching quiz (I’d apparently be a good match for Haley James Scott).
What’s most exciting though, is the lineup of ‘coming soon’ web-only originals.
It’s a pupu platter of soapy teen dramas: Sorority 4 Ever, Rich Girl, Poor Girl , and High Drama to name a few. Despite the cheesy names and even cheesier taglines, I smell success for at least a few of the series. The WB is bringing out the big guns. Producer McG (The OC, Chuck) is partnering with production team Big Fantastic (Prom Queen) on Sorority 4 Ever (“It’s the hot sorority every girl wants to pledge, but deep withing the PHI CHI house lies a mysterious secret.”).
(Update: According to TheWB.com general manager, Brent Poer, Sorority Forever will be the first original show to launch. Premiering on September 8th and consisting of 40 episodes, they plan to release a new installment every weekday.)
And a real dream team is coming together for a show that will “go behind the scenes of a fictional rock club to follow the fans, discover the bands, and get in on the music.” That’s coming from writer/producer/director Josh Schwartz (The OC, Gossip Girl) and the queen of TV music selection, Alexandra Patsavas, who is responsible for the tunes that accent The OC, Gossip Girl, and Gray’s Anatomy.
I had high expectations for the site and faced disappointment at nearly every turn. I had to keep reminding myself that the site is still in beta (but, then again, so is GMail) and that this is the time for them to iron out wrinkles and listen to user feedback. The site will open to the public in August, and I’ll be checking back regularly with my fingers crossed for improvement.