D'Works, Imagine bow Webcasting site

Signaling that Hollywood is taking a more serious stake in the Internet, DreamWorks and Imagine Entertainment said Monday they will enter the Netcasting arena, launching a venture called POP.com that will broadcast everything from original gameshows to short films produced exclusively for the Web.

Vulcan Ventures Inc., the investment firm of DreamWorks investor Paul G. Allen, is initially pouring $50 million into the site — Allen will control 50% of the company, with Imagine and DreamWorks each taking a 25% stake. A public stock offering is likely.

With a spring launch date, POP.com is late to the Netcasting game. But with DreamWorks partners Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen and Imagine toppers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer onboard, the site could create an avalanche of Hollywood-sponsored ‘Net activity.

It also means that the quality of the entertainment-based content online should improve a notch, contrasting with the slew of short indie pics and animation offerings now on the ‘Net.

“Instead of standing on the sidelines and letting the medium be defined by others, we decided to jump in,” Howard told Daily Variety. “We’ll be offering up the ideas we can think of and are excited about and offer the venue for others.”

In development over the past year, POP.com will emphasize comedy through free, original one- to six-minute live-action and animated Webcasts, short films, gameshows and other programming produced for the ‘Net. Pay-per-view features and e-commerce are also expected to be offered later on.

Both Howard, who calls the venture “liberating,” and Spielberg said they will also create content for the site, which could cross over to traditional forms of media.

Howard spearheaded the idea with Spielberg, Grazer and Katzenberg.

Grazer and Katzenberg said possible CEO contenders are being interviewed. It won’t be anyone from Imagine or DreamWorks, they added.

In the meantime, DreamWorks chief financial officer Ron Nelson and Imagine’s creative exec Dan Sullivan will head the operation.

POP.com will be free to users, generating most of its revenues through advertising.

“The Internet offers unlimited potential as a new entertainment arena, and Jeffrey, David and I are looking forward to exploring that potential with Ron and Brian,” Spielberg said. “We’ll be using this Web site as a fertile planting field to springboard our talent partners into other mediums.”

The goal is to find the next “South Park” or “The Simpsons,” shows that “began with a germ of an idea and expanded to what they are today,” Spielberg said.

Short trend

The decision to keep programming short has become the trend online — appeasing Netizens with slow Internet connections and Hollywood, as well.

“We’re not looking to compete with movies or television,” Spielberg said. “It’s a new medium and will be created that way. Until the Internet goes broadband, this will never be competitive with television or motion pictures.”

All programming will also include interactive features, such as chats and instant messaging, as well as tools enabling users to create their own content to be broadcast on the site.

The creators of the most popular unsolicited submissions will receive development contracts at DreamWorks and Imagine.

Howard and Spielberg said deals have already been inked with A-list content creators. Specifics will be announced in the coming weeks.

Waiting for Spielberg

Spielberg’s entry online has long been awaited. The famed helmer has traditionally been cautious about adopting new technology, such as the ‘Net, DVD or Avid machines to digitally edit films.

But Spielberg said the “technology is getting easier to use” on the ‘Net and that it’s one of the only venues where “you don’t need ratings to keep you alive.”

The move signals that Hollywood is increasingly turning attention to the Web. With Spielberg and Howard onboard, other major players in the film and television fronts are expected to follow.

Recently, the major studios have been inching into the arena, with Warner Bros. Online leading the pack through its Webcasts of Adam Sandler’s “The Peeper,” 10 minutes of “The Iron Giant” and original vignettes for “Three to Tango.” Its yet-to-launch hub Entertaindom promises to go heavy on online video.

Under the leadership of newly appointed prexy Rick Hess, Propaganda Films said last week it will create a media arm that will entice its stable of talent to create original content for the Web.

“Just as MTV introduced a new entertainment forum for musicvideos, we think this new enterprise will offer a new form of entertainment for the rapidly growing population of Internet users,” Katzenberg said. “POP.com has the capability not only to offer a variety of entertainment options, but to tap into an as-yet-undiscovered talent pool that is as global as the Internet itself.”

Imagine and DreamWorks worked with portal Lycos Inc. and its CEO, Bob Davis, in the development of the POP.com moniker.

Skip Brittenham and Cliff Gilbert-Lurie of Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca & Fischer, repped both Imagine and DreamWorks in the formation of the company.

(Nick Madigan contributed to this report.)

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more