Bucking Hollywood’s tendency to use the World Wide Web as an electronic billboard for film and TV properties, MGM Interactive is entering the Web-sodic business. Sources say the company is backing pilots for episodic comedies and dramas that will appear on the Internet.

“There are approximately six Internet productions in development right now at MGM,” a source said.

Multimedia insiders in Hollywood say the studio has been talking with developers for several months. They say MGM is hoping to create Web-based properties that could be spun off as TV series or features.

MGM’s approach has been applauded by developers and publishers, who long have criticized the Hollywood majors’ lack of innovation on the Web, especially when compared with companies such as American Cybercast, which specializes in creating original online stories.

Groundbreaking venture

“It’s significant that any studio is looking at original content. MGM’s looking at original episodics is groundbreaking. With most of the studios, what you see on the Web is ‘name-of-the-movie-dot-com,’ ” quipped Steven Koltai, a former Warner Bros. exec who now heads up Internet company CyberStudios.

A handful of entertainment companies create original content for the Web, but none fall under the umbrella of episodics. Warner Bros. runs Insomniacs Asylum on America Online, and New Line TV operates the Hub on AOL. In January, Turner Broadcasting System launched Spiv, a Web site carrying original content.

Lifetime TV is the only other traditional entertainment entity to create original Web programming. It recently launched “In the House of Dreams” and has plans for other Web-sodics.

But MGM’s venture differs in that it’s the first Hollywood-based company to create online content not tied somehow to promoting a film or TV show. According to sources, the plan calls for creation of fictional episodics that could be posted on the Web in regular installments. American Cybercast’s “The Spot” and Marinex Multimedia’s “The East Village” are examples of such programming.

Andrew Nelson, partner at multimedia developer Cyberflix, which recently released the CD-ROM “Titanic,” applauded MGM’s plans, saying, “Episodics is an area where movie studios can really do something exciting. This shows that MGM is thinking about this, not just jumping on some bandwagon.”

Picture still unclear

Thus far, sources said, MGM hasn’t made any decisions as to distribution. Industry insiders said it’s unclear whether the studio will launch its own channel, a la American Cybercast, or whether it will sell programming to other carriers, such as American Cybercast, AOL or the Microsoft Network.

“They’re getting their ducks in a row, looking at which business models make sense,” said Matti Leshem, a partner at Cobalt Moon, an L.A. multimedia developer that’s producing a Web pilot for MGM.

That project, “Angel House,” is about a male college student who runs out of money and ends up living in the basement of a sorority house. In a show-within-a-show plot twist, the hero wires the sorority house with a type of camera that sends images to the World Wide Web.

“We want people to log on because they think it’ll be racy, but it’s really a comedy,” said Leshem, former development exec at Second City.

Industry sources said MGM hasn’t set a timetable for any formal announcement about plans for its Web-sodic business.

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