Is the wisdom of crowds better than TV network execs at picking hits?
That’s the premise of I’d Watch That, a website from startup venture Big Picture that lets viewers rate teasers for potential TV shows to determine if there’s a viable audience — a concept that will now be put to the test, after the company has signed its first development deal for a project submitted through the site.
The show, “Metro,” was created by writer-director PJ Posner and placed into development by 3311 Productions. The proposed 1960s-era drama tells the story of Metropolitan Magazine – a fictionalized version of Cosmopolitan — through the eyes of four women who worked there, exploring “their lives, their loves, their sexual awakening.”
I’d Watch That, launched last fall, lets creators post 90- to 120-second sizzle reels for shows, which are then viewed and ranked by the site’s several thousand users. The resulting ratings surface the most promising ideas with a degree of accuracy far more reliable than traditional focus-group testing, according to Big Pictures CEO and co-founder Tom Zito.
“Using the crowd to both source and select new shows will significantly improve the efficiency of the system, reduce development costs and identify content that has already appealed to viewers in a statistically significant way,” said Zito, an entrepreneur and former journalist. Among his previous ventures, Zito founded music-discovery site GarageBand.com (which became part of Myspace) and headed Integrated Media Measurement Inc., an out-of-home radio and TV ad measurement startup that is now part of Nielsen.
Ross Jacobson, CEO of 3311 Productions and former COO of Magical Elves, said finding a show like “Metro” using I’d Watch That eliminates the guesswork. “Instead of optioning shows based on our own hunches, I’d Watch That gave us user-vetted content we can develop with a much greater degree of confidence and certainty that the show will appeal to audiences and be successful,” he said.
Originally, Big Picture planned to finance development of the top-rated shows on I’d Watch That, giving producers $25,000 to make a short pilot. That’s still a possibility, but now the company is finding interest from production firms and networks to pick up shows directly, according to Zito.
Reviewers on I’d Watch That are shown two different clips, and the site then asks them to pick which one they preferred. That produces a better statistical model for gauging popularity than recording a rating for an individual clip, according to Zito. The site gathers demographic info on the users who rate the videos, to achieve what he said is a representative cross-section of the U.S. TV audience.
Other top “sizzles” on I’d Watch That include “As Advertised,” a comedy about a car dealership going through tough times, and drama “The Last Templar,” about the final member of the 14th century order of the Knights Templar escaping persecution by the Catholic Church.
Big Picture’s investors include William R. Hearst III, chairman of Hearst; Barry Schuler, former CEO of AOL; John Fisher, managing director of VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson; and Inspiration Ventures.
Posner’s credits include directing “Last Breath,” a thriller starring Luke Perry (“Beverly Hills 90210”), and executive-producing “Secretary,” starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal. He also also directs commercials and corporate films for clients.
Culver City, Calif.-based 3311 Productions, founded in 2011 by Mark Roberts and Ross Jacobson, produces and finances independent films as well as programming for TV and digital platforms. Recent productions include films “In A World…,” “Big Sur,” and “Mr. Right,” and upcoming sci-fi thriller “Approaching The Unknown.”