Mark Burnett Brings Reality TV to the Web

In the rush to get television content on portable media devices and home computers, there's a new competitor throwing his hat in the ring: reality TV guru Mark Burnett.

Responsible for such hit shows as the man vs. nature program "Survivor" and the Donald Trump job-interview-turned-game-show "The Apprentice," Burnett is now looking to the Internet for his next great opus.

"The world is changing, and the Internet is about to become the next broadcast network," Burnett said in a statement. "With the volume of people able to watch content on their computers between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., it could very well become the new primetime."

That may not thrill some employers fighting to keep their staff from spending too much time on the Web rather than their work. But to partner with America Online, it could mean a lot of perspective customers.

"Gold Rush!" will be a real-life treasure hunt that will be televised exclusively on AOL.

"This is a totally original concept that comes to us from the guy who created reality television," said Jon Miller, chairman and CEO of America Online in a statement. "It defines engagement; it's disruptive by nature and it will certainly be habit-forming -- all the best of the Internet in one fell swoop."

Competitors will search for hidden clues that'll be scattered across the AOL network on sites like AOL.com, AIM.com, Moviefone.com and MapQuest.com.

The show signals a change in attitude toward Web-based programming, which is seeing a revival after it failed to pick up much support in the late 1990s.

"I honestly think that in five years time, television will be watched on computer screens anyway and you'll be doing multiple things," said Burnett in a telephone interview. "you'll be 'IMing' while you're watching a show and checking the news."

The prevalence of more powerful computers in people's homes and workplaces, the popularity of faster, high-speed Internet connections and the interactive culture surrounding today's audience, tell Burnett it's time to strike.

"My kids -- even though it's a family business -- they don't even know what day or time "Survivor" is even on. They just know it's on TiVo," he said. "They can watch it whenever the hell they want to watch it -- they're not running away from the dinner table to watch a TV show that's on at eight, they can watch any show they want at 4 o'clock or the next day."

But Burnett's assessment of the broadcast opportunities presented by the Internet isn't shared by all.

Some analysts say you can't burn a candle at both ends and if you borrow from the television audience to create an online audience, one has to suffer.

"Right off the bat, Mark Burnett has reduced his potential audience from being 112 million television households in the United States, to 49 million broadband households," said Todd Chanko an analyst with Jupiter Research. "The assumption here is that interactivity will draw so many folks to the online experience of watching 'Gold Rush!' that it will somehow make up for the tremendous gap between the size of the populations."

Chanko says that people have attempted to merge interactivity and television before, and have failed.

But, he does admit that with a generation of young people growing up in a world that is digital and interactive, the time may not be right, but it's certainly "righter."

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