Execs find way to make Internet content pay

SITGES, Spain  For years now, the Internet has posed producers a seemingly impossible-to-answer question: How to monetize Web content.

This month, European producers showcased solutions — at film festivals.

On Oct. 2, Barcelona shingles Kotoc and Edda Design presented toon/Web series “The Extras” and “Sweesters,” respectively, at a vidgame/multiplatform confab organized by Catalan pubcaster TV3 during the Sitges Fantasy Film Festival, Europe’s biggest genre pic meet.

A day earlier, Lisbon-based BeActive’s Nuno Bernardo unveiled his latest Web series, gruesome chiller “Final Punishment,” at Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro Film Festival.

All are multiplatform skeins. All look set to turn a profit.

“Punishment” unfurls in a dank-walled high-security prison in Brazil, where eight women inmates are murdered, one a week, by an apparently shapeless assassin.

To stop the bloodshed, viewers must scour webcast videos, blogs on Brazil’s Baixaaki website, Flikr photo albums, mobile phone messages, Facebook and Twitter profiles for clues — making this a multi-multiplatform project.

In November, Brazilian satellite/cable channel Oi TV will broadcast a four-part mockumentary whose security-camera clips solve the mysteries.

Brazil’s Oi/Brasil Telecom financed two-thirds of “Punishment’s” $350,000 budget to promote its quadruple-play platform.

Online entertainment can often monetize much or all of its production costs through sponsorship and product placement, says Bernardo. That happened with BeActive’s second Web/TV series, teen drama “Flatmates,” which was fully financed by advertisers.

“Punishment’s” darker material ruled out sponsorship but opens up good DVD sales prospects.

BeActive retains Brazilian DVD and book publishing rights — it has a deal with Larousse — and international sales.

At Cannes’ Mipcom TV mart this month, BeActive received “firm offers” for multiple territories, Bernardo says. He expects profits mid-2010.

Meanwhile, Edda Design presented tween-to-teen targeted toon “Sweesters,” featuring three feisty sisters, while Kotoc bowed adult-skewed “The Extras,” boasting a wacky ensemble cast and gross-out humor.

There’s no one-size-fits-all business model or product-type for multiplatform entertainment.

That said, “Sweesters” and “Extras,” like “Punishment,” have strong core finance — TV3 and state org the Catalan Institute of Cultural Industries together put up half the coin.

Both have strong TV components:  “Sweesters” two-minute episodes are first broadcast on TV3, then webcast 24 hours later.

And, crucially, like “Punishment,” producers retain most worldwide rights, so building company value.

On “Sweesters,” rolling the Web version, which Edda hosts, into TV licensing deals with Nickelodeon Spain and Italy’s RaiSat, helped Edda boost sales prices by 15% and 40% respectively, says shingle’s producer Agusti Llinas.

“Extras” has struck a co-production deal with Italy’s Gianluca Bellomo at Rome’s Connectoon, Kotoc exec producer David Dieguez Redondo said at Sitges.

Why the festival presentations?

Bernardo says his target audience naturally spends lots of time online but also attends film festivals.

“Accessing something exclusive, or finding something before it’s mainstream is key to this target group,” he says.

And real social events such as music concerts, live performances, special screenings — and film festivals — provide this opportunity.

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