The Weather Channel today launched a branded island within Second Life, where the virtual 3D social networking site’s online community of 4.2 million avatar-cloaked members can go skiing, mountain-biking and otherwise frolic outdoors in a virtual environment of torrential rain, blizzards and other weather conditions.

Weather Island [click here to see a demo] will also hold Friday screenings of original programming, including the just-launched Epic Conditions. The move follows other TV networks establishing a presence in Second Life.

Sundance Channel opened its SL island in January during the Sundance Film Festival, when the network launched Friday screenings of streaming video to promote its upcoming programming and other content, including original shortform video. Its first streaming event, a screening of the feature film Four-Eyed Monsters (a first) staged 300 simultaneous streams on Second Life, in its own branded area and beyond.

Sundance recently shot 13 webisodes for The Green—its eco-programming block that premieres Apr. 17—that will be screened online in Second Life with live chats to drive tune-in to the linear network.

Showtime Networks, a part-owner of Sundance Channel, opened its Second Life island in January, when in partnership with The Electric Sheep Co. it created a virtual community based on its series, The L Word. For an idea of how it’s building virtual buzz for the show, which returns in Jan. 2008, check out Showtime’s website for a schedule of its events in Second Life.

CBS, which owns Showtime, uses Electric Sheep to create virtual Second Life extensions around its series such as the promo it "filmed" in Second Life for Two and a Half Men that aired during the Super Bowl. CBS president and CEO Les Moonves talked up the partnership at CES in January, and CBS took a stake in the company late last month.

CBS’s former other half, Viacom, is busy creating its own virtual worlds. In partnership with There.com, MTV Networks is developing worlds based on its MTV series. Housed within MTV Central, the initiative launched in September with Virtual Laguna Beach, which streamed the Laguna Beach season premiere within that virtual environment.

VLB was joined by a Virtual Hills island in January, and on Feb. 28 by Virtual Korn, which featured avatars for the band members who could chat with fans at an online launch party to promote MTV Unplugged: Korn before the MTV special aired on Mar. 2 and the related album was released on Mar. 6.

MTV’s virtual worlds are being developed by a group (nicknamed Leapfrog) led by Jeffrey Yapp, MTVN’s EVP business development, and Matt Bostwick, SVP of franchise development for MTV Music Group and Logo. In January they welcomed Ty Ahmad-Taylor, formerly senior director of interactive products at Comcast and now VP of product development for MTV Music Group and Logo.

Yapp’s team is expanding the MTV virtual universe this spring in tandem with developing LogoWorld, a gay and lesbian-themed virtual world offshoot of MTVN’s Logo channel. Steve Youngwood, EVP of digital media for Nickelodeon, led the development of Nicktropolis, an original 3D virtual world for kids, which was highlighted at Nick’s upfront yesterday in New York. Yapp, Youngwood and Bostwick will present a case study on their 3D world-building experiences at the Virtual Worlds conference later this month in New York.

It’s not just programmers getting into the virtual marketing game: Cisco opened a virtual campus within Second Life in December to promote its products, including Scientific-Atlanta‘s set-top boxes and related products for cable and telcos.

Sony also announced this week a pair of games-based virtual worlds for PlayStation 3. The first, called Home, will launch in beta next month while LittleBigPlanet, which requires player cooperation, is slated for this fall.

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