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 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.

The tipping point for made-for-web TV

31 08 2007

Cast your mind back just three years and the term ‘made-for-web TV’ was usually greeted with derision by broadcast execs (it still is in some circles), suggesting the reason why it was made for the web was because it wasn’t good enough for more mainstream distribution, on a grown-up medium like telly.

Fast-forward to the last 15 months and it’s easy to see how far made-for-web TV has come:

  • lonelygirl15 came from nowhere and generated 50 million views, attracting product placement deals with Hershey’s and Johnson & Johnson.
  • Its star, New Zealand-born actress Jessica Lee Rose became a United Nations ambassador, landed a role in a Lindsay Lohan movie and was named biggest internet celebrity by Forbes magazine.
  • Sam Has 7 Friends ran for 80 x 90-second minisodes, with 10,000 downloads a day via iTunes, and got nominated for a broadband Emmy.
  • Michael ‘Disney’ Eisner took the wraps off his new media production house Vuguru, following up a month later with the MySpace debut of Prom Queen (a co-pro with Big Fantastic, producers of Sam Has 7 Friends).
  • Now Afterworld, the new sci-fi web series produced by Electric Farm Entertainment, and presumably basking in the halo effect created by Heroes, has created a number of firsts by: i) breaking the cost barrier [the overall production budget was US $3 million — still small beer comparative to linear networks, but a watershed moment for web TV]; ii) international TV, gaming and mobile rights have been licensed to Sony Pictures International; iii) the first linear TV distribution deal is already in the bag: the Sci-Fi Channel in Australia will condense the slate of minisodes, webisodes, whatever you like to call them in to 13 x  30-minute episodes for linear broadcast. Superficially, it’s cheap linear telly, but this really is a breakthrough moment.

Just to get the shock-of-the-new back into perspective, on the U.K. side of the pond the BBC has been experimenting with this area for years, even further back:

In 2002, its ‘utlra-local’ broadband TV experiment in a small region of the north of England took Thunder Road, the BBC’s ‘first interactive drama’, a piece originally conceived by local playwright John Godber as a single 90-minute film, and segmented it in to 30 three-minute minisodes, releasing these on a daily basis over a month, also assembling an archive of back episodes simulatenously. Despite the rudimentary approach, with the benefit of hindsight, the show exceeded even Auntie’s wildest expectations and delivered substantial audiences — all because it did two things really well: it had the production values of network output and combined this with a resonance which touched people on a very local level.

So where is this all going? Some nimble indie producers have been quick to seize the opportunity that open distribution represents. Others have been waiting on the sidelines, worried about the ripple effect they’ll have on the main (linear) buyers on whom they rely. Disintermediation etc.

If you’re a producer reading this, wake-up, this is the beginning of a truly global distribution opportunity opened up by the connected age. Don’t be intimidated by linear precedents, the world is truly now your showreel. Seize the moment.

Blinkx to offer ‘Prom Queen’ sequel, expands niche titles

30 08 2007

Blinkx, the self-styled ‘world’s largest video search engine’ has unveiled a raft of new content partnerships in the past couple of days, including the sequel to Prom Queen, the Emmy-nominated online drama produced by Michael Eisner’s Vuguru new media studio.

Starting today, new two-minute episodes will be available via Blinkx, with further episodes added daily during the three-week series run. Blinkx and Vuguru will share revenue, based on number of views.

More than 15 million people watched the first series when it premiered last Spring, with the majority of traffic driven through an exclusive premier window with MySpace.

In an announcement on Tuesday, Blinkx said it had signed 28 new content partnerships with niche and specialist content providers, expanding still further the breadth and depth of its offer.

Broadband TV channels Cycling TV and Wedding TV are among the new partners, alongside music video site Eye Music Network and professionally-produced video travel guides from GeoBeats

Last June it was reported that Blinkx is working on its own video aggregation service to rival Joost, due to launch this autumn.