Web-first content finds friendly market

Netcasting goes H'w'd; hungry for short films

Seven Web-first producers to watch

The Netcasting game starts to look a little more like Hollywood every day.

Much like production companies that sprouted up around the film and TV industries, wannabe Webheads are jumping into the Internet content creation game, trying to feed Netcasters desperate for entertainment programming.

“It’s definitely a really exciting time to get into this,” says Gary Bryman, a partner at Los Angeles-based management production outfit Quality Filmed Entertainment. The company primarily focuses on making short films and has found the Web to be begging for its content after short pic “George Lucas in Love” hit big.

“The more sites there are, the more hungry they are for content,” Bryman adds.

Last year, QFE shot the ‘Net-friendly “Love,” which helped put MediaTrip.com on the map. IFilm.com acquired the venture’s library of shorts and the filmmakers are creating a 10-episode online series for AtomFilms called “Go Sick,” which was fully financed by the Netcaster.

The company is currently developing 10 to 12 other television projects to syndicate to dot-coms. Each is designed to be tested online before turning it into a movie, TV show or comic book.

“We were producing short films before it was cool,” says co-partner Steven Hein. “It was always used as a way to attract the attention of the studios. Now with this whole Internet explosion, it’s made it possible for filmmakers to (expose) their material to a larger audience outside of Los Angeles.”

Similarly, other players — Honkworm Intl., Mondo Media, Pulse Entertainment, Brilliant Digital — have had some success as syndicators of interactive TV-like content to other sites.

But a slew of more Hollywood-connected performers are jumping into the fray, getting ready to take the geek factor out of online showbiz.

More to come

Commercial and musicvid powerhouse HSI Prods. is readying to bow Kayoss, which will create content produced and helmed by its stable of shorts directors, including Paul Hunter (Lenny Kravitz’s “American Woman”), Diane Martel (Christina Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants”), Jonas Akerlund (Madonna’s “Ray of Light”), David LaChapelle (Moby’s “Natural Blues”) and Matthew Rolston (Gap’s Khakis Swing campaign), among others.

Many, including rival commercial studio Propaganda Films (which is also venturing into cyberspace with a deal with AtomFilms), have claimed that commercial and musicvid directors are perfectly suited to tell short stories on the Web, while making them look visually intersting.

“The interesting thing about creating Internet content,” says HSI senior exec George Linardos, “is that it’s all about vision and risk in a time when conglomerates and bean counting have made traditional media increasingly formulaic. It’s refreshing to work in an environment where people are driven by what could be as opposed to what happened at the box office last weekend.”

Good for Webcasters

Until now, most Netcasters have been reliant upon their in-house partnerships with talent for programming.

Icebox.com hyped its animation site earlier this year with online shows coming from creators or producers of “The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill,” “Party of Five,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Frasier” and “Seinfeld,” among others.

Shockwave.com, the most popular Netcaster on the Web, is producing animated shows with “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, David Lynch, Ben Stein, Stan Lee, Tim Burton and Jim Belushi. Upcoming pacts with “Saturday Night Live” cast member Chris Kattan and actor Harland Williams are anticipated.

Z.com, from incubator Idealab (eToys), Brad Grey’s Basic Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment, Jerry Bruckheimer and Maverick Records partner Guy Oseary, offers up content from Bruckheimer, Oliver Stone, Ellen DeGeneres, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and David Spade.

And in its attempts to transform itself into a digital studio and build its library of original content, Seattle-based AtomFilms.com is beginning to fund its own productions with indie fare that could turn it into the online Miramax.

But such a move can backfire.

While it had good intentions, Digital Entertainment Network discovered the hard way that creating your own content can be costly. In its last-ditch but failed efforts to try to appeal to both Gen-Y and investors, the company announced that it would stop production of its high-priced shows and acquire new series from outside creators.

DEN’s drop, and current market dynamics have made some other things apparent about Web production:

  • High overhead costs drop as Netcasters spend less resources on developing programming or maintaining a production studio setup.

  • E-content creators don’t have to worry about generating traffic to their Web sites or spending costly dollars on marketing programs.

  • With deals based on the traditional TV syndication model, content creators benefit from revenues stemming from the sale of shows, a producer’s fee, a cut in advertising profits, sponsorship and sales of the titles to other sites or offline, such as airlines or homevid. The royalty checks keep on rolling in. Should title ever transfer to TV or films, the original producers tag along.

For example, Urban Media’s UrbanEntertainment.com recently sold the film rights to its animated “Undercover Brother” Web series by John Ridley (“Third Watch,” “Three Kings”) to Universal for $2 million, with Imagine Entertainment interested in developing the project. Urban Media sticks with the project as a producer.

No matter how many produciton companies hit the ‘Net, it doesn’t mean they understand how the Web works or what Internet users want to watch. Content from most of these producers hasn’t hit the Web, so industryites are waiting to see whether hits will start breaking out or die on the vine like DEN’s.

“The reality is, it’s still an unproven ground,” QFE’s Bryman says. “I don’t think anybody knows how this is going to work. But…when more people are in play and when more people are connected with broadband, that’s when it’s really going to explode.”

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