Cable networks get remixed

MTV Overdrive and Turner's just-announced GameTap gaming service are the latest, most-high profile examples of a shift taking place within traditional cable programmers, and media in general. Traditional brands are quietly transforming themselves in ways far beyond even cross-media entities such as Martha Stewart Omnimedia - which has played successfully for some time in TV, publishing and retail.

MTV Overdrive is more than just a website redesign or gallery of video clips. It’s MTV reinvented, made better with random access to specific clips, playlist customization and a neat music video search feature. Where else can you set up a playlist with a lengthy Batman Begins clip, reality show interviews and Bjork’s Isobel video?

As novel as Overdrive is, it’s still largely a remix of what MTV does best. GameTap takes things a step further. It's a true online gaming service that, when it launches, will be comprised of thousands of classic and modern games. Not game video highlights. Not commentary from Spike. The games themselves. I expect plenty of crossover to other properties at Turner and Time Warner - networks like Spike and the new Web-driven, open AOL. But this business looks to be designed to stand up on its own legs. Now Turner will compete on new turf with Real Networks' (which once called itself an MSO for the Internet) RealArcade and Electronic Arts'.

Media companies are being forced to expand their businesses in novel new ways. ESPN has blazed this trail for some time, with sports bar/restaurants, videogames and a forthcoming wireless service. Discovery has retail in malls. Sumner Redstone owns Mortal Kombat. Bono’s firm almost bought Lara Croft. In the opposite direction, wedding website TheKnot now has a VOD channel on Comcast.

The pixilation of media is pushing established companies to extend and reinvent existing brands, and in some cases to create complete new businesses. In just a few years it’s likely that traditional cable networks and media companies will look nothing like they do today.