NBC ready to experiment online

In less than an hour Tuesday, NBC Universal chief digital officer George Kliavkoff talked about a slew of new video-based ideas and initiatives underway at the network, all tailored to online or mobile consumption. While none of the moves on their own are particularly ground-breaking, the combination of innovation with the power of big-network shows could be enough to allow the big boys to vault startups in the NewTeeVee space.

Speaking at the Cisco analyst conference (part of the router vendor’s new focus on video), Kliavkoff said he is overseeing a team of about 30 people at NBC who are in a sort of incubator mold, doing things like creating a Second Life event for an advertiser, or producing short video segments like show recaps or behind-the-scenes looks, in an effort to find what works in what he calls “the middle ground” between promo clips and full-length material.

Kliavkoff, who came to NBC earlier this fall from a similar position at Major League Baseball, is clearly mired deep in things Internet. Already, the digital-studio team under Kliavkoff has produced a lighting-the-Christmas-Tree segment for Second Life, an interactive event that he said was directly tied to a sponsor’s direction.

“It’s not about producing shorter-form linear video,” Kliavkoff said. “We are looking to do interactive things that directly relate to [a sponsor’s] product.”

And it doesn’t have to be material that is accessed only from NBC’s sites; Kliavkoff talked about producing a software widget, or “mini-URLs” that could ride on top of other sites — “like a widget for The Office that could be put on a MySpace page,” he said, thereby giving NBC an eye-grabbing window on someone else’s territory. He also talked about a recent successful experiment during a Deal or No Deal segment that let people guess what was in some of the briefcases shown on TV. By using cell-phone text messages, viewers could guess, with correct guesses eligible for a $10,000 prize.

The contest, Kliavkoff said, netted 1.5 million text messages during a one-hour show, a pretty good marketing payoff. And yet another way to bring old and new media together.

“The technology allows you to do new things, so you might not necessarily make investments where you thought,” he said.

Like ABC’s baby steps of selling content on iTunes or CBS’s shy flirting with YouTube, the networks’ online moves may seem like small stuff to bigger ideas at startups, where people can create, share and mashup video. But which startup can claim captive audiences like those who watch Lost, Desperate Housewives or live sporting events? Unlike the music market, where major players were caught unawares by the Internet, the world of NewTeeVee will clearly have input from both old and new schools of thought.