Indies embracing the web and new platforms

3 02 2008

The growth of new distribution opportunities via the internet has prompted some independent production companies to find additional options for exploiting their content, while others are producing content specifically for the web.

Here’s a round-up of some of the key players so far:

  • Miles Beckett and Luke Hyams, the co-creators of LonelyGirl15, are rightly dubbed the kings of social networking drama. The duo have gone on to form LG15 Studios, with backing from Hollywood talent brokers Creative Artists Agency, deepening their relationship with Bebo by producing Kate Modern.
  • Veteran U.S. independent Mark Burnett Productions, best known for a slew of reality TV formats, has been actively syndicating derivative programming to web portals for a number of years. Its series Rock Star: INXS was offered via MSN, albeit as an enhancement / spin-off to the linear show. However, the company is getting more active with pure new media plays: last September it launched Gold Rush, an online reality game via AOL.
  • Ex-Disney chief Mike Eisner’s Vuguru was founded in March 2007 and rapidly cut through with Prom Queen, a scripted drama comprising 80 x 90-second minisodes, distributed via its own site , YouTube and Veoh (which Eisner is also backing).
  • U.K. indie RDF is currently developing Rough Cuts. a comedy portal featuring full-length download-to-own programmes from its own catalogues (RDF is a distributor, as well as a production company), other independents and, it hopes, under license from broadcasters. Last July, the company’s U.S. offshoot inked a licensing deal with Daily Motion.
  • Endemol – the company which brought the world Big Brother – was one of the first major indies to license its back catalogue content to U.K. IPTV service BT Vision, as well as to pure web plays, such as Joost and newcomer Next.TV. The company is also producing Gap Year, a web exclusive travelogue for Bebo. At the C21 Future Media conference in London late last year, Endemol’s Peter Cowley, managing director of interactive media, disclosed that its digital division was contributing between 10 to 20% of overall revenues.
  • FremantleMedia’s strategy focuses on marrying up excellent creativity, low budgets and profitability. The company – behind linear hits such as American Idol – owned by media conglomerate Bertelsmann subsidiary RTL Group, has a new platforms division overseen by programme syndication veteran Gary Carter. Aside from licensing deals, the company’s key new media property is web and mobile comedy channel Atomic Wedgie, an aggregation of younger-skewing short-form programmes which achieved nearly 3 million views via MySpace during Q4 2007. The company is working on an interactive drama format for syndication to web aggregators during 2008.
  • IMG and its television division TWI has established a fearsome reputation for global syndication (the business was built out of sports talent management) and boasts a programme catalogue of 250,000 hours of premier sports events (Wimbledon, the PGA Tournament and U.K. Premier League are among those it represents). The company has been developing content propositions for new platforms – albeit based on wobblier technology than today – as far back as 2003. The company’s Gamer.tv format (which enjoys the dubious distinction of being banned in China) was one of the first made-for-TV shows to be syndicated to web portals, such as MSN.




Another online video aggregator claims DMCA safe harbor defence

8 09 2007

In a move with echoes of an earlier clash between online video aggregator Veoh and Universal Music Group (UMG), DivX has taken pre-emptive legal action against the latter.

Like Veoh’s lawsuit, DivX cites the safe harbor provisions under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which protects service providers and ISPs from copyright infringement by their users. Veoh had placed its bets on the pre-emptive action discouraging UMG from filing its own lawsuit.

Veoh’s hopes on this were dashed last week when UMG did indeed follow through with legal action, blending elements of Viacom’s writ against Google and the music industry’s just concluded lawsuit against Napster, says this report in Wired.

The UMG v. Veoh lawsuit alleges taking “mass infringement on the internet to a new and dangerous level by supplying the public with an integrated combination of services and tools that make infringement free, easy and profitable for Veoh.”

In the spat between DivX and UMG, the handbags are out:

“UMG’s pattern of attacking innovative online service providers is discouraging and will ultimately hinder innovation and the development of new technologies,” said David Richter, executive vice president of corporate development and legal for DivX.

Peter LoFrumento, UMG senior vice president hit back with: “Universal Music Group has been in negotiations with DivX and recently offered them a deal that would address the rampant copyright infringement occurring on their service and fairly compensate our artists and songwriters for the use of their audiovisual works. Universal is committed to supporting innovative new digital services, as evidenced by our deals with YouTube and others…  DivX’s purpose is to build traffic and sell advertising off of unlicensed content that is clearly illegal.”





Why size matters :)

31 08 2007

Perhaps a general excuse for a syndicated feature on the brave new world of online TV and video, but this piece from AP makes an interesting, yet also baldly obvious, observation that online video viewers expect a full-screen, televisual experience, rather than watching something which judders in a console the size of a postage stamp.

Particularly telling are the straplines employed by incumbent services:

Babelgum’s slogan is: “TV experience, Internet substance.” Veoh touts: “VeohTV makes watching Internet as simple as watching television.” Joost simply states: “The new way of watching TV.”

Which suggest that out of the three quoted, two get it and are playing the long game on anticipated mainstream usage, while Babelgum is clearly speaking more directly to the early adopter audiences which forms the user bases of all three offers.

The report also cites A poll conducted by AP and Time Warner Inc.’s AOL from last September, which found that only one in five online video viewers have watched or downloaded a full-length movie or TV show. Arguably both dated and self-serving given the commissioners of the study.

What’s without a doubt, as the piece highlights, is that  TV and PC environments are merging. It will take 10-20 years, according to the report for them to fully converge, the report adds, perhaps a subjective judgment, given the speed of change both within the service, technology and device landscapes and broad underestimates of consumer adoption.

TV viewing is one of the most deeply-entrenched habits witnessed by humankind, after the other thing, change is beginning to happen quite profoundly among both younger and yonug-at-heart consumers, but the mainstream majority will likely take longer than the VC-backers and hyping-journos would like to believe. This isn’t an uncertain world, merely one which is shifting distribution mechansim.





WiTV: the new Joost-alike kid on the block

20 08 2007

When Joost emerged from its Venice Project chrysalis late last year, commentators said it would re-invent the TV landscape.  Then came Babelgum and Veoh, products which have adopted broadly similar approaches: full-screen, televisual user interfaces paired with community features, such as the ability to customise channels and rate content.

Now it seems these three are to be joined by yet another newcomer, WiTV, conceived by the people behind the Streamcast Player.

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Details of the new service remain sketchy, beyond a currently small amount of blog chatter, but you can bet you’ll be hearing a whole lot more about this over the coming months. WebTVWire was first to splash news of WiTV back in June, following up yesterday with these screen shots. Hopefully the company will work out how to spell trailer before it rolls out to the public 🙂

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Differentiating it from the rest of the pack, WiTV is browser-integrated, so will work across all operating systems from word go — it’s only in recent months that Joost has released a Mac-compatible version, while the BBC’s iPlayer continues to vex Mac owners and open sourcers by only offering a Windows XP version in its initial release.

It’s stated that the service is compatible with Apple TV and Windows Media Center, bridging the all-important ‘last 20 ft’ PC / TV divide. If the developer’s claims stack up, the service also works with mobile devices and games consoles.

In these just-released screen shots, its backers have clearly been giving careful thought not only to community-type features (Skype compatability is mentioned in reports) but also to attracting content owners, through branded environments, as well as advertising overlays.

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Another key differentiator, it’s claimed, is that all content will be streamed directly from a central server. It’s already widely-known that despite being bases on a p2p architecture, Joost continues to server augment content distribution to its one million registered users.

As impressive the screen shots are, it remains to be seen whether WiTV’s backers will have the wherewithall to cut meaningful content deals: Joost’s formidable hype machine, the deep pockets of its Skype-founding backers and a liberal sprinkling of opportunism have allowed it to engage majors such as Viacom. Meanwhile, despite wheeling out Spike Lee at its launch to media movers and shakers in Cannes earlier this year, Babelgum has announced just 25 small, indie content deals.

One to watch…





We’re suing you; erm, no we sued you first… Veoh

10 08 2007

Online video sharing site Veoh has taken pre-emptive action against Universal Music Group (UMG), asking a federal judge to prevent the record label from lodging its own copyright infringement action, reports AP via the International Herald Tribune.

Veoh say that it was notified by Vivendi-owned UMG last month that legal action for “massive infringement” of copyright was under consideration, a fate which might have befallen YouTube, had the two sides not subsequently reached terms. UMG also sued MySpace last year, claiming the site was offering videos of its artists posted without its consent.

Veoh claims it isn’t seeking damages against UMG, merely to enforce its rights under the ‘safe harbor’ provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright act, which exempts online service providers from liability, provided they quickly remove or disabled access to material identified in a copyright owner’s complaint.





Veoh’s new CEO on the challenges ahead

28 07 2007

Some interesting (if obvious) quotes in this Ad Age interview with Steve Mitgang, the former Yahoo exec tasked with leading the company’s ‘Panama’ search iniative and recently appointed CEO of online video aggregator Veoh:

Ad Age: Why has it been so hard to create a viable business around online video? It seems to be wildly popular among consumers.

Mr. Mitgang: According to the reports, YouTube only sold $30 million in ads last year because they didn’t build a system to support … that healthy tension between editorial and advertising. They just didn’t build it. They were trying to grow [an advertising vehicle] out of a legacy position as opposed to starting out the right way. We’ve built and are enhancing a discovery and recommendation engine to give users the right video and discover gems. Not just show you what you’re looking for. The flip side of understanding those user behaviors and recommendations is for targeting purchases. We can say, look at the car enthusiasts … [these ones] are primarily interested in German cars or muscle cars. Being able to tell that to the brand manager of Mustang or Mini, we’ll be able to help them better than anyone else. Whether watching user-generated or premium content we’ll help target against the right users.

Ad Age: From a consumer standpoint, how does the recommendation engine help?

Mr. Mitgang: There are big problems on horizon for video that we’re solving. In a world with billions of videos, it’s harder for people to know what’s interesting. That’s why building discovery or recommendation engines is key. Search only solves a transactional problem. Whether you’re shopping at Amazon or Netflix that discovery process is an important one. When people are using video more completely, in a 100,000 channel world, discovery’s important. How you manage videos is important, along with how you manage your bandwidth and disk space.