WWW apes TV with bitcoms

While the major studios and media conglomerates charge full speed ahead in their drive to promote existing properties on the World Wide Web, smaller, more entrepreneurial outfits are developing original episodic material that’s regularly scheduled, much like programs on a TV network.

There are several cyberseries now in production or preproduction, including “The East Village,” from Marinex Multimedia; “L.A. Pop,” from Kanakaris Communications; “The Spot,” from Prophecy Entertainment (a subsid of L.A. ad agency Fattal and Collins); “Whodunit?” from the Network; and “Mudders” from New York Metro.

These Internet shows, however, aren’t exactly like television: For one thing, full-screen, full-motion video isn’t yet available over standard phone lines. Therefore, a series of pages containing still photos, text, audio and various types of video clips are used to tell a story.

Another difference is the budget, or lack thereof, for producing an Internet show. As with CD-ROMs, the online world has yet to see anything resembling an A-level star appearing in a production, not counting online chat sessions promoting a film or TV project. There’s simply not enough money to make it worthwhile for anyone with Hollywood cachet to appear in a made-for-the-Web production.

Mixed bag

But none of that is a deterrent to adventurous entrepreneurs pushing the World Wide Web slowly in the direction of the TV networks. On the surface, there’s not much in common among this new breed of creator: Some are seasoned TV producers; some are actors, comedians or writers looking to cyberspace for their big break; one is a former roadie for Frank Zappa; another is a nightclub promoter; still another, a respected software developer.

But they’re all dissatisfied with the entertainment industry’s practice of using the new medium essentially as a billboard rather than an outlet for original, creative material.

Marc Canter, for instance, is already well-known in the multimedia industry as creator of the popular development tool Director. He was also a founder of software company Macro- Mind, which went public a few years ago and became Macro- Media.

Later this month, Canter is launching his own World Wide Web program, aptly named “The Marc Canter Show.” The show will consist of interviews, reviews, on-location reports and other features.

Canter, who was repped by the William Morris Agency in the 1980s, is packaging the show for several media, including TV and radio, and has received calls from Hollywood agents and execs who are interested, even though, in his words “the (Web) experience right now is like a radio show combined with a slide show.”

Spawning vidclips

The site will be among the first, however, to use Macro- Media’s Shockwave, a software enabling Web site operators to include downloadable video clips similar to those currently found on CD-ROM. This development brings Web-surfing a little closer to channel-surfing.

Other Web developers promise that technological advances to improve the quality of their offerings are just around the corner. And as quality improves, so does the likelihood of attracting advertisers, most believe.

John Sloatman, for instance, has leveraged his L.A.-based Web channel, Only Multimedia Inc. (OMI), by signing up subscribers to his Internet access provider, the Wave Network. “If the quality’s good, the site gets a lot of hits, which makes companies want to advertise there,” he says.

OMI will officially launch on Nov. 25 with regularly scheduled programming such as “Frankly Zappa,” “Sideshow Gator Parts” and “Only Soap.” These shows and others will be updated weekly and will launch with support from advertisers.


Another L.A.-based Web company, the Network, is going online Nov. 20 with episodic programming that includes an ongoing murder mystery, “Whodunit?” The Network was co-founded by William P. D’Angelo and Dean Vallas, both veteran TV producers.

D’Angelo and Vallas, as well as Sloatman and countless other Web site operators, have financed these projects with their own money.

Again, like Sloatman, the two plan to introduce a range of programming that’s updated each week.

D’Angelo says the Network has signed on with the Mountain View, Calif., branch of advertising agency Poppe Tyson. The agency has assembled a consortium of companies that make one advertising buy for space on several Web sites at once.

Sloatman plans to operate OMI using a business model similar to that of TV networks: Independent creators of programming can sell their material to the Wave Network and thereby try to attract an audience for the advertisers on the site, or they can sell programming to OMI, in the same way an infomercial producer would.

Because he also operates his site’s server, Sloatman can keep track of how many hits a show gets. If traffic is slow, the show gets canceled.

“I can run a show for 13 weeks to see if it works, just like the TV networks do. And if it’s really lousy, I’ll pull it in two or three weeks – the same as in television,” Sloatman promises.

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