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Dying To Work At The White House

Kim Hart

Ok, I admit it. I'm a fan of the Fox medical drama House. Last night I only caught the tail end of the show, which was just enough to realize that Dr. Lawrence Kutner, a character played by actor Kal Penn, of the "Harold and Kumar" movies, had been killed off. He committed suicide.

To find the rest of the story, I did a few Web searches this morning, and came across an online memorial for the character and a Facebook page where viewers could mourn his loss. I was confused. Had the actor who played Kutner actually died in real life? Why else would there be actual memorial pages for him?

It was probably very clear to viewers who had seen the full episode. And, apparently, I get a little too sucked into shows and have a hard time distinguishing fiction from reality. As it turns out Kal Penn is leaving his acting career for a job at the White House. Penn was an active supporter of President Obama on the campaign trail and he was offered the position of Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Liaison, according to Entertainment Weekly.

Still, why would Fox create social networking pages?

To create buzz, of course. As fewer people tune into TV shows in their actual on-the-air time slots, networks are trying desperately to get viewers engaged in their content. NBC offers online-only content to accompany shows like The Office and 30 Rock. This is Fox's way of trying to foster a connection between viewers and the show's character (even though the character is no more.)

Here's Fox's explanation:

FOX has launched a special online memorial at fox.com/kutner to give viewers an opportunity to remember "Dr. Lawrence Kutner" (Kal Penn), whose unexpected suicide occurred on last night's episode of HOUSE. Features of the site include a video tribute to Kutner featuring music composed by Hugh Laurie, Kutner's obituary, messages posted by Princeton Plainsboro coworkers and a link to the Kutner memorial Facebook page.

On the Facebook page, fans have the opportunity to leave personal messages remembering the character, view photos, video clips, as well as "grab" his hospital ID to post on social networking sites and their personal blogs. Additionally, the HOUSE homepage at fox.com/house will have a new look in observance of this somber storyline.

The question I pose to readers: is this a good use of social media by a broadcast network? I have to hand it Fox for experimenting and taking advantage of situations on the show in order to interact with viewers. But was it effective?

Either way, networks have no choice but to try everything they can to reach viewers who are online. And on that note, it looks like viewers are getting more accustomed to viewing ads in exchange for a network's video content. According to a Knowledge Networks poll, 80 percent of online network TV viewers would prefer to view ads in exchange for unpaid video content, up from 67 percent in 2006.

According to a synopsis of the research sent out today by E-marketer:

The data indicates a grudging acceptance of preroll ads, the most popular video ad format currently available. In 2008, 7 percentage points more network TV viewers (37 percent) said they watched videos with preroll ads than did in 2006.

The viewing rate was highest among people who solely viewed online-only features, with 46 percent saying they watched the prerolls. Among those who viewed only full episodes, 76 percent watched or listened to the ads. The lowest viewing rate was among viewers of only episode clips.

By Kim Hart  |  April 7, 2009; 2:24 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Who is paying for this BS? What a bunch of maroons as Bugs would say. Obama continues to build the Socialist Army. Is he going to be called a Czar. We need more Czar's. Will there be a Czar for Cars to handle running the automakers that Obama seems to be taking over?

Posted by: Bubbette1 | April 7, 2009 3:30 PM

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