Old, new media work together

While Mark Burnett and Tommy Mottola are plunking down dough to translate TV show concepts to the Internet, — i.e., Mottola’s online music talent search “StarTomorrow” — TV programmers are making a mad dash to broadcast the annals of the Internet’s most niche-specific and bizarre.

As the old and new media are trying to figure out how to work together, one fact emerges clearly: Cheaper equipment is available to more people, so TV is not just for Hollywood creative types any more. Anyone with a few bucks can buy a camera and become a “filmmaker.” And the networks are trying to figure out how to make money from this newly democratic process:

  • VH1 is the first big network to launch a regular Web clip-based series — and the results are exceeding expectations. “Web Junk 20,” a countdown of the week’s most circulated vids on iFilm.com, grabs millions of viewers each week over multiple runs. Parent company Viacom purchased iFilm for a cool $49 million last year.

  • A trio of projects have surfaced at NBC Universal. Peacock has teamed with former VJ Carson Daly on a Web-based version of “America’s Funniest Home Videos”; Bravo in the next two weeks will premiere “Outrageous and Contagious,” a weekly docu-style look at the viral video phenom; and USA is prepping a series take on testosterone-driven clip site “eBaum’s World.”

  • Gore’s fledgling network, Current, meanwhile, subsists almost entirely on viral vids and submissions from kids with cameras.

Most of the content amounts to what NBC U digital content chief Jeff Gaspin calls “the next version of ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’ — when is seeing someone get kicked in the balls not funny?” he jokes. But thanks to the Web, “Clips like this are a cultural phenomenon. It’s in the zeitgeist again.”

Producers and programmers have figured out that the viral videos are very attractive to the trendsetters advertisers lust after, malleable to a variety of platforms including cell phones and on-demand outlets, and — at least for now — inexpensive.

VH1 exec veep Michael Hirschorn calls it “tons cheaper” than any of the cabler’s reality shows.

David Garfinkle, one of the producers behind the NBC/Carson Daly project, insists it wasn’t the low cost of the show that got Peacock execs high.

“It was that idea that this content can run over all their digital platforms. That’s what all the executives are buzzing about right now. That’s how we got NBC’s attention.”

Gaspin agrees, saying a multiplatform strategy is a huge selling point: “More and more pitches are coming in with elements beyond the traditional (TV show). And more and more we’re asking for them.”

But doesn’t the mass exposure on TV zip the hip from the clips? Not on VH1, says Hirschorn.

“Our show assumes viewers have already downloaded these clips,” he says. “It’s mindless entertainment, but it’s funny, and it’s packaged with our pop nostalgia point of view.”

“South Park” had humble online beginnings: MTV Networks entertainment czar Brian Graden discovered the foul-mouthed cuties in an email Christmas card.

Andy Milonakis turned MTV star only after latenight host Jimmy Kimmel found his “Super Bowl Is Gay” video online.

Nevertheless, director of Starcom Entertainment Laura Caracciolo-Davis says the majority of advertisers are still hesitant despite the hip factor.

With the number of clips being shown, “it’s hard to monitor content issues. The advertisers that target this narrow demo get it; they know the future is consumer control. But so many of them aren’t there yet.”

Still, most advertisers are more likely to spend on a TV aud watching Web clips than online viewers trafficking sites.

With the rise of blogging, podcasting and on-demand, Hirschorn says the trend of putting online content on-air is reflective of “an emerging culture in which everyone views themselves as a content creator.”

And with networks zealously trying to create 360-degree experiences — on-air, online, on cell, on demand –Bravo prexy Lauren Zalaznick says the idea to is brand the clip shows as your own.

“Sooner or later, all content will be available everywhere. What’s difficult to approximate is a tone or voice of a show.”

VH1 is even taking a page from Gore’s Current in its next round of primetime development. “Over the next year, I think you’ll see a lot of new TV that’s inspired by user-generated content,” Hirschorn says.

That’s not to say webs will be upping the quotient of cheapie TV. “Current has shows that the quality of some of these clips can be quite high,” he says.

“People say this is about advancements in technology, but it’s not. It’s a creative issue — 99% of the stuff out there is spew,” Hirschorn says. “What TV programmers are trying to figure out is how to unlock and organize the good stuff.”

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