Traffic jam

Internet startups H'wood push

HOLLYWOOD — It’s only natural that Hollywood should emerge as the leader for online entertainment. In addition to the major studios’ Internet efforts, established sites such as DEN and Hollywood Stock Exchange are based in Los Angeles and short film screening site ifilm.com has recently opened an area office.

As the Internet evolves to focus on entertainment, technology gurus are scrambling to marry Hollywood’s creativity to the potential of the Web. Jason McCabe Calcanis, editor of New York’s Silicon Alley Reporter, launched the Digital Coast Reporter about two years ago, and will soon introduce a daily email report version of the publication. Calcanis says he spun off the Digital Coast Reporter “to cover the scene, based on the belief that when the Internet moved from anemic bandwidth to fat pipes, that the video assets and skill sets of Los Angeles would be the focus of the Internet.”

“The problem,” he continues, “is that the old guard in Hollywood doesn’t understand the Internet yet…the upshot is that some people in Hollywood are starting to look at the Internet as an opportunity as opposed to a threat.”

UrbanMedia.com, for instance, is one new site that is carving out a niche for itself in African-American feature and short films. Michael Jenkinson, a former VP of feature production and acquisition at 20th Century Fox, is the founder of the site, which picks up exclusive TV and Internet rights to independently produced black films and licenses them to other Internet sites and traditional media.

“We have a growing library (of films) on our business-to-business site. … We also stream trailers and full feature films,” Jenkinson explains.

The 8-month-old startup is expanding so rapidly that they are in the midst of a fairly substantial venture capital round that should be complete by the end of the month.

“We are also launching UrbanOnDemand.com, a new site scheduled to be up at the end of the month. It will be business-to-consumer with features and shorts,” Jenkinson says.

Another L.A.-based site to launch this month is Media-Trip.com, focusing on music and film. According to Media-Trip founder Austin Harrison, the site will host originally produced weekly shows such as “The Music News Weekly,” “Tattoo TV” and a new animated series “Li’l Pimp.”

Each week the site will debut a new short film as well. In the music department, MediaTrip promises to provide artist interviews and recommendations in both film and music.

“We are about quality, not quantity. … We find that there is a lack of taste (on the Web) and a lot of directories for entertainment. We are providing a filter and a focus,” Harrison says.

To write about L.A.’s new online ventures and not mention POP.com, created by entertainment powerhouses Imagine Entertainment and DreamWorks SKG, certainly would be a mistake. While few know how accurately to describe the company set to launch in 2000, many expect POP to have a major effect on the shape of Web entertainment content.

But how much entertainment can survive online? While many in Hollywood say there is unlimited opportunity, others are more cautious.

“Talent and content has a role on the Internet, but nobody has cracked that nut yet. Where is the successful entertainment on the ‘Net? Look at Disney and the Go Network. They have everything going for it, but their growth is flatlining. It all can’t work. There are only so many hours in the day,” says James Hake, former executive with Ziff Davis, CEO of the Standard for Internet Commerce and founder of an Internet venture launching in February.

While L.A. is buzzing about entertainment content, another interesting trend is emerging Tinseltown. Some in the biz are creating their own e-business companies as a means of creating more stability. While few would describe founding a startup as stable, for area graphic designers and artists — who have been witness to layoffs, mistreatment and the flight of production houses to cheaper areas of the country –the Internet offers some hope.

Just ask R. Phillip Pacheco, CEO and founder of MillionGifts.com, who has worked for the past 13 years in Hollywood as a graphic designer and computer technician for local and network TV.

“(MillionGifts) gives me more security. There have been layoffs in the business. … A lot of production houses have left town (and gone to Canada). I’ve been lucky,” says Pacheco, who still works at KCET, L.A.’s PBS station, and has written a trouble-shooting book about the Mac.

If his response from his first press release about MillionGifts is any indication, Pacheco could be very lucky. Two major venture capitalists called him the next day to discuss funding.