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Anheuser-Busch pulls plug on Bud.TV

Emily Fredrix Associated Press

MILWAUKEE – Bud.TV, we hardly knew you. Well, most of us.

After about two years, Anheuser-Busch is putting the lid on Bud.TV, an online television network of sorts that aimed for the brewer’s 20-something fans with serial shows, standup comedy and other content.

Bud.TV cost about $15 million to start in 2007 and never secured the 3 million visitors per month it was after, said Keith Levy, vice president of marketing. In fact, the audience fell way short of that, he said, though he didn’t provide current numbers.

From early on, Bud.TV had trouble attracting fans in an increasingly cluttered online world; it drew 253,000 visitors in its first month, tapering off to 152,000 a month later.

So on Wednesday, the St. Louis-based brewer pulled the plug. Visitors now see a message thanking them for stopping by and suggesting they visit sites for the brewer’s two biggest brands, Bud Light and Budweiser.

Anheuser-Busch embarked on the venture well aware of its riskiness, Levy said.

“We’re proud of that,” he said. “We’re also smart enough to say, OK, it’s time to move on.”

From early on, there were obstacles, including the requirement that visitors be of legal drinking age because the site is run by a brewer.

Executives said early on that age-verification requirements hurt traffic more than expected. A one-time registration page required viewers to enter their name, ZIP code and birth date. Anheuser-Busch added the requirement after critics said the company could use Bud.TV to market alcohol to teenagers.

Shows on Bud.TV included a series that featured a chimp doing various people’s jobs, standup comedians who would sometimes weave Bud Light references into their jokes and videos of sportscaster Joe Buck interviewing people in taxi cabs.

Coming up with new content wasn’t easy, Levy said, especially for a company better known for brewing beer.

The company tweaked the site as it learned what visitors wanted. For instance, it turned out they wanted to send videos from it to their friends.

The site at first wasn’t set up so visitors could forward the videos but then made it possible. Anheuser-Busch also boosted its branding as it realized visitors would accept more.

And there were small successes: The average visit lasted about 7 minutes, which meant people were taking their time looking at the videos, Levy said.

Shutting the site down won’t affect the brewer’s job numbers, he said, because no employees were centered on it.

The ending of Bud.TV comes months after Anheuser-Busch’s sale to Belgium-based InBev, a company known for cutting costs.

Anheuser-Busch InBev has said marketing overall won’t decline. But changes are brewing.

Last week the company said its chief creative officer was leaving and would be replaced by a group of existing brand managers to leverage their knowledge about the products and consumers.

Levy said Anheuser-Busch is increasing its digital marketing efforts at social networking sites like Facebook and with partners like sports network ESPN’s Web site espn.com – sites that already draw the brewer’s target audience.

“You’ve got to be there,” he said of being online. “You’ve got to be in mobile applications. You have to be in the right sites. You have to have a presence in the digital world.”

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