Sneak Peek: The WB Launches Tomorrow

TheWB.com will relaunch Wednesday as an online video destination in an attempt to revive the brand (and sell a few ads). We got a sneak-peek at the new site and put it through some paces. Our initial reaction? Though the content is good, the confusing interface makes one think that the WB actually stands for “Why Bother?”

CONTENT
The content is a mix of oldteevee shows and some web-only video. Some of the brand name content available includes Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and MadTV. Warner Bros. will be launching broad online distribution in mid-September, but until then, The WB has shows like full episodes of Friends, Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars, which can’t be found on Hulu.

There is also web programming like Jeannie Tate, Whatever Hollywood and the upcoming Sorority Forever (starring Jessica Rose of Lonelygirl 15 fame).

The TV content is what it is, which is fine, but the web stuff is pretty bad, especially the Whatever Hollywood series, which follows three girls doing goofy stuff and singing some of the worst parody songs you will ever hear.

Because the site is still in preview, embeds weren’t activated yet. But in a curious move, The WB has decided to not allow full episode embedding.

NAVIGATION
Liz commented a few months back that there was nothing “revolutionary” about Hulu’s design. While true, one of the reasons the site continues to grow is that it has a clean, easy-to-navigate interface. The WB does not (and they didn’t take Liz’s notes from when she looked at the beta version).

Finding a show is pretty easy; there’s a drop-down menu to choose from. Currently, once you click on a show it takes you to that show’s page and immediately fires up a teaser trailer for that show (autoplay = annoying) and presents a list of episodes. But when you select an episode, it takes you to another page where another teaser trailer (or presumably an ad once the site launches) starts running automatically before you get to the content. That’s two pre-rolls. Bleck.

What’s confusing about this page is that the original episode list disappears. At first, it seems like you can’t switch to another episode. But that’s because the list is hidden in the task bar in tiny type where it says “episodes.” There is no indication that it’s clickable or that it brings up a list. Users shouldn’t have to make a mental leap to watch content.

FEATURES
Along with the standard video player, The WB also sports two potentially-cool features in its search and mashup tools.

The video search allows you to search through the video content by show, season, episode, character or location (though “location” wasn’t really defined and didn’t have many options). Even better, you can search for specific bits of dialog. I ran a search through the Gilmore Girls for every instance of Rory saying “mom,” which brought back a list of clips (though I’m betting she said “mom” more than the times listed here).

As for the remix, corporate-run mashup offerings are typically lame, because they constrain the user with specific clips and transitions. That holds true for The WB right now, but press materials say users will be able to search for specific scenes from shows and mash them together.

OVERALL
The biggest letdown is that for a site filled with content that people enjoy, the site doesn’t feel like fun or a better way to connect with its audience. It’s actually a much better experience watching WB programming on Hulu than it is watching it on TheWB.com.

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