Mrs. P: Learning From TV to Teach Online

One of the biggest winners in the election cycle was Saturday Night Live – more specifically, online clips of Saturday Night Live’s candidate impersonations.

While ratings for the show on broadcast jumped to 9.8 million (a 76% increase over last year), the number of people watching the videos online shot up by several hundred percent. The SNL skits were this election’s equivalent of the 2004 election’s JibJab clip, but on a much larger scale.

NBC pursued a strategy of releasing the content on several sites including Hulu and NBC.com, user-submitted clips made it up on YouTube and a variety of other locations.

Is the intent of the broadcasters, though, to put these clips on their websites to drive the traffic back to the traditional network? Yes and no.

"NBC.com put a promo for the Christian Slater show My Own Worst Enemy on the same page as SNL highlights from the week before," a BusinessWeek article noted, adding "What online video has needed from its beginning is a major cultural event that would focus attention on the abundance of TV shows—and all kinds of other material—available online."

We’ve had two of those events in the last few months, between the election and the Olympics, and the results are rolling in: Online content, professionally produced, is attractive to all ages. It’s TV for the web, where we’re comfortable watching an advertisement or twenty to see the content without having to program our DVR.

Some broadcasters get it more than others: Fox, for instance, chooses to wait to put up last week’s House episode until this week’s has run, meaning that the eight-day gap renders it impossible to catch up online with the episode you missed last week before this week’s episode airs on a traditional broadcast.

With all that said, is there professionally-produced content that might only stay online? And, if so, who would produce this type of content?

It turns out, in one instance, that it’s the same people that are part of the production process for traditional media.

MrsP.com is a website that shows professionally-produced video for children in an advertisement- and subscription-free context. Starring TV actress Kathy Kinney (Mimi on The Drew Carey Show), MrsP.com has been founded by a team of Hollywood veterans, several of whom are still actively engaged in writing, editing and acting in televised content.

Sitting on a set that looks similar to Masterpiece Theater, Kinney’s Mrs. P character—who appeared last week on Kinney’s old costar Craig Ferguson’s show—reads stories to youngsters that range from the classics to more recent fare. The telling, though, is done in a way akin to Emma Thompson’s character in the Harry Potter series of movies, with "over the top" voices and gestures.

It’s just the kind of things for the targeting audience of 3-8 year olds, bridging the gap of those who can't read to those who have started to read and might want help on their thespian interpretations of stories.

"While we’re not doing subscription or ad-based content," says Dana Plautz, Co-President of MrsP.com, herself an industry veteran, "we’re also not doing web advertising. The way we’re spreading the word is via word of mouth. We’re targeting mommy and parent blogging sites, we’ve engaged various experts in reading, we’ll do a few variety or traditional talk shows, but it’s all about engaged with parents to win their trust to let us help them educate and entertain their children."

The content is being delivered on CDNetworks’s content delivery system, and while it was produced in HD and edited on a Final Cut Pro system, the show can be sent out at varying levels of quality. This is good news for self-financed MrsP.com, where the content can not only be delivered in high-quality to those who have fast-enough data pipes, but also can be delivered at an audio-only level for those might want to listen to a story before they go to sleep.

"We saw opportunity on the web to engage plugged-in kids," said Plautz, "and we wanted a place where we could have total creative control and put up content we wanted to produce. The Internet is finally there to match our creative vision, and we think it’s time to inspire via character-driven programming to teach kids to read. This is a fundamental shift from most sites which use branded characters from traditional media but don't have new web-only characters that children can identify with."

MrsP.com is similar to Reading Rainbow but, as a for-profit, it has the potential to help launch books for companies (think "Oprah’s book club" for kids).

"We also think there’s an opportunity to reach into several additional markets segments," said Plautz, "including books for pre-teens, cross-overs to cult status for the college-age viewer, and even a few assisted living organizations who have contacted us to consider using MrsP.com as a way to let their elderly customers enjoy a book."

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