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.




Disney’s Club Penguin: update

3 12 2007

Following Disney’s up to US $700 million acquisition of kids’ social network Club Penguin back in August, the company sees the U.K. as a key European market, following news that it is readying plans for a Brit flavour of the service by the middle of 2008.

“Club Penguin has already attracted a significant audience in the UK with its North American service, but we believe there is a real demand in this market for a safe online community destination for children that has local relevance,” Walt Disney Internet Group, EMEA, senior VP and MD Cindy Rose told C21.





Dangerous Dave embraces Gen YouTube

11 11 2007

The U.K. Conservative Party is reaching out to connect with the online video generation by launching its own channel on Friction.tv, a social network aimed at stimulating political debate, founded by Omer Shaikh, the former head of Saatchi & Saatchi Interactive. 

A short film about party leader ‘Dangerous Dave’ Cameron’s recent visit to California and his campaign to make poverty history in the U.K. are among the first films uploaded by Tory Central Office. A couple of new films are promised every week.





TV nets face up to growing online competition

25 09 2007

Variety reports on the latest online video forecasts produced by market analysts Screen Digest: the U.K. market for online TV will be worth £181 million (US $362 million) by 2011, but growth of the online movies segment is predicted to be slower.

There’s no doubting that across the Pond, the competitive environment is really gaining traction, as observed by the Financial Times: in the two years since that watershed moment when iTunes first started offering download-to-own TV shows from Disney, all of the major networks have scrambled to not only beef up their own sites, but also to broker those all-important third party syndication deals.

In the last week alone, Walt Disney-owned ABC has agreed a deal to syndicate its shows, for free, via AOL. The net joins CBS, which has been aggressively pursuing its own syndication strategy for the past few months, while Hulu.com, the online video aggregator site JV between NBC Universal and NewsCorp. is due to bow next month.

Hopping back over the Pond to the U.K., the BBC, ITV, Channel Four and five all have online catch-up TV services: the BBC offers the broadest range and volume of hours, while ITV and Channel Four are increasingly bolstering their catch-up offers with back catalogue shows. Satellite broadcaster BSkyB is broadening its Anytime service, with different flavours of the catch-up service available both via broadband and Sky+ DVRs; the company’s recent pact with Sony will also see an extension of the service for Playstation PSPs.

The Screen Digest research referenced at the top of this post acknowledges that established players such as TV networks also face competition from non-traditional market entrants, such as Joost and iTunes. Significantly, it may be players such as Apple and Microsoft, which stand to gain the most if they can finesse their strategies to leverage consumer relationships through ownership of devices, such as iPods, or the world’s most uniquitous operating system.

Four predictions of my own:

  1. The last year or so has merely been about positioning and trying to establish which online video offers work, and which don’t. Note CBS is moving beyond merely offering full-length TV shows online and gradually ramping up 2.0 functionality: conversational content. 2008 will see the space grow up considerably. 
  2. Whether it’s aggregators or TV networks’ own sites, online video offers are principally restricted to ‘walled gardens’ of content, usually from the operating network or a select few content partners. This is wholly alien to the TV viewing experience: consumers don’t watch shows from a single network or producer. The walled garden approach smacks of protectionism and, over the fuller term, it won’t last for all but the smallest handful of players. The creation of Hulu.com is the first acknowledgement by two major players that hybrid partnerships such as thes, which broaden out the available content offer, are the way to go. YouTube is further evidence of a successful broad-brush aggregation model – albeit with some copyright complications.
  3. The market is already overcrowded: come further shocks to the world’s stock markets (an inevitability), watch the venture capital evaporate. Incumbent players looking to second or third round financing, against a backdrop of unproven business models (let alone profit) will shutter or consolidate. Viacom had better be hoping that it can pick up the assets of Joost for a song.
  4. Apple TV and Microsoft Media Center are the first two examples of mainstream PC/TV convergence: but neither has yet created a compelling enough content offer nor low enough price points to give the products a reasonable run at setting the market alight, beyond early adopters. Next gen games consoles from Sony and Microsoft will up the ante by gradually bolstering their IP-delivered VOD offers, but even these may struggle to break through beyond gaming loyalists. Either some boffin will come up with the cheapest and most elegant plug-and-play convergence-enabler – witness what Freeview set-tops did for the U.K. market – or new product categories, such as networked DVD player / recorders or DVRs will hit that magic tipping point of attractive pricing and mainline retail distribution.




Pyro.TV brings online video to Facebook

29 08 2007

Online video aggregator and rich media publisher Vibe Solutions has integrated its Pyro.TV portal with Facebook, offering the social network’s 24 million users access to a range of video content from networks such as ABC, NBC, Comedy Central and CNN.

Facebook users can embed a version of the Pyro.TV player in their profile and customise channel line-ups.

The development follows last month’s announcement that Pyro.TV had partnered with video search engine Blinkx.

In related Facebook news, online measurement firm Hitwise reveals that the social network is now the 10th most-visited site in the U.K. and is ranked 20th when it comes to diverting onward traffic to retail sites.





Ads don’t get more contextual than this

23 08 2007

The Wall Street Journal today reports on plans under development by social network Facebook to launch ads based on information revealed on the site by its users.

While the article states that the plan is currently at an early stage, it has become the company’s # 1 priority, with an initial rollout as early as autumn, presumably in reaction to Google beefing up its own designs on monetising YouTube.

The new service would let advertisers visit a Web site to choose a much wider array of characteristics for the users who should see their ads — based not only on age, gender and location, but also on details such as favorite activities and preferred music, says the WSJ. Facebook would use its technology to point the ads to the selected groups of people without exposing their personal information to the advertisers.

The report continues, next year, Facebook hopes to expand on the service, one person says, using algorithms to learn how receptive a person might be to an ad based on readily available information about activities and interests of not just a user but also his friends — even if the user hasn’t explicitly expressed interest in a given topic. Facebook could then target ads accordingly.

Most potently of all: Facebook’s plan, if it works, could be potentially powerful for advertisers. While Google’s keyword-targeted ads aim at “demand fulfillment” — that is, they are triggered by Internet searches conducted by people who are actively looking for something that they want — Facebook’s new ad plan could help advertisers address an area called “demand generation.” This involves using available information — not just from a user but also the activities and interests of his “friends” on the site — to figure out what people might want before they’ve specifically mentioned it.





Social networks for the time-poor

23 08 2007

Multiple profiles across Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, LinkedIn… but not enough time to keep them all updated? MyLifeBrand allows users to manage up to 8 profiles on social networks and view / update these through a single browser interface. The site claims to have already signed up 500,000 members.

A timely opportunity to point to this piece of research from iProspect, which suggests that the following % of U.S. internet users have never visited the below sites:

  • LinkedIn: 96%
  • Facebook: 92%
  • YouTube: 63%
  • MySpace: 62%