Cyberspace can be a rough neighborhood, even for the king of beers.
Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. has seen a decline in the number of visitors to its Bud.TV Web site, which aims to draw 20-something consumers with edgy content.
The site was launched in February but started to fizzle soon after that. The number of visitors fell from 253,000 in its first month to 152,000 in March and is expected to be flat in April, said Tony Ponturo, Anheuser-Busch's vice president of global media and sports marketing.
The brewer has scaled back its goals for the site, now hoping to draw about 500,000 visitors each month by 2008 instead of the 3 million it originally expected.
Ponturo said Anheuser-Busch knew Bud.TV would require some tweaking.
"We're sort of learning on the job, but in a glass house as we do it," he said.
Bud.TV is more elaborate than any other Web site the company has launched. It's meant to be a cross between a cable television channel with original shows and Google Inc.'s popular video-sharing site YouTube.
Two factors seem to be hurting Bud.TV, said Eric Shepard, executive editor of the industry publication Beer Marketer's Insights.
The first is a requirement for viewers to enter personal information to verify they are of drinking age.
The second is the difficulty in creating shows with appeal on the Internet. Many of the hit videos that appear on YouTube are zany, spontaneous clips captured by amateurs. It's tough for hired writers to do the same thing.
"It seems like they have put themselves in a kind of difficult position in terms of creative" content, Shepard said.
Ponturo said the age-verification requirement has crimped traffic more than expected.
A one-time registration page requires viewers to enter their name, ZIP code and birth date. Anheuser-Busch added the requirement after critics said Bud.TV might be a way to market alcohol to teenagers.
"People are not conditioned to give personal information for entertainment sites," Ponturo said.
There's no talk of losing the age-verification feature, Ponturo said. The brewer does plan to spiff up the registration page to better fit the "attitude" of Bud.TV, he said.
"The registration page probably looked too much like a bank loan statement," he said.
Anheuser-Busch also is adding features to the site and will begin a marketing campaign to draw more viewers. The overhauled site will have more videos accessible on the home page and allow viewers to e-mail the videos to their friends, Ponturo said.
While Bud.TV's initial results have been disappointing, the true measure of Bud.TV's success won't be known for some time, Shepard said.
"It seems to me that people ought to just sit back and take a breath," before judging Bud.TV's long-term prospects, he said.