Although he has held fairly traditional exec jobs for traditional media companies, Albie Hecht has always kept an eye on the Web.
It helped shape the marketing strategy at Spike, which he helped found and run, and fueled the 1990s march to kiddie dominance of his previous home, Nickelodeon.
Not long after leaving Spike in 2005, though, Hecht started thinking grander thoughts about Web content, about how to make it the main course and not just a side dish. The result: Worldwide Biggies, which bills itself as a digital entertainment studio.
It has become a restless hive since landing $9 million in startup funding in mid-2007 from a consortium including Graycroft Partners, Platform Equity and PrismVentureWorks. Hearst and NBC Universal are strategic investors.
Worldwide Biggies, deliberately named after a bit of Variety slanguage, has offices in L.A. and on Gotham’s rapidly gentrifying Far West Side. It has generated several notable projects over the past year, including:
- “Star vs. Star,” a mashup of celebrity coverage and fantasy sports co-developed with Time Warner gossip blog TMZ;
- Worldwide Fido, a venue for online video of people’s dogs (a burgeoning market, as anyone who’s encountered YouTube’s skateboarding pooches can attest);
- a downloadable Web game derived from the Rob Reiner pic “The Princess Bride”;
- “Mo-Cap LLC,” a Web series spoofing the creators of motion-capture f/x; and
- a new season of hit Nickelodeon series “The Naked Bros. Band.”
Most projects begin online and then get extended into other areas, or vice versa. The company is going from four to six series a year to six to eight a year. Scalability is key — a case in point is a series of Web shorts called “Bigby,” about a pint-sized kid with a boundless fantasy life, that is adaptable to longer running times for TV or even a feature.
“The core concept is character-based intellectual property,” Hecht says. “We believe it should be born on the Web, imbued with multiplatform DNA and be able to go everywhere else.” It should be noted how fond the gregarious Hecht is of buzzwords and tech-speak — don’t get him going on “six modes of user engagement” — but he genuinely means every word of it.
“All the coolest people are creating online, right?” he continues. “And that’s also where the audience is. The average young person spends 21 hours a week online. Thirty percent of kids under three have a computer in their room. I mean, if Walt (Disney) were starting today, he’d start on the Web.”
“Naked Bros.,” a mockumentary revolving around a tween-aged rock band’s life at home and on the road, has thrived online since its 2007 debut on Nick. It preemed at the Hamptons Film Festival.
Film, although not at the center of Worldwide Biggies’ world, is a familiar medium for Hecht. While at Nick, where he oversaw franchises such as “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Dora the Explorer,” he also branched out into movies, shepherding pics like “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “The Spiderwick Chronicles.”
Last year, he collected an Oscar nom for a completely different kind of film, “War/Dance,” a docu about children caught up in Uganda’s long-running civil war. The film came from Shine Global, the nonprofit arm of Worldwide Biggies that funnels 100% of revenues from its project toward charitable causes.
Hecht founded Shine Global with his wife, Susan, a health-education professor at New Jersey’s Kean U. (They live in Montclair, a popular industry nabe that’s an easy hop across the Hudson.)
A native of Queens and graduate of Francis Lewis High School just off the Long Island Expressway, Hecht went to Columbia U. and emerged into a newly cable-ready media world. After a DJ gig on the college radio station led to a career in the music biz, he expanded into TV production and helped build Nickelodeon, both as an outside producer and as an exec, when it was barely out of diapers itself.
Those early days at Nick, when kid content came naturally to Hecht given his two kids were in grade school at the time, were when he discovered the Web as a talent pool.
“Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” which launched as a Web series, then a bigscreen feature and then a TV series, came from the Web. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is a great place to find garage-band CGI,’ ” Hecht recalls.
Even in a grim economy, basic Web distribution economics, plus Worldwide Biggies’ multiple revenue streams (unit sales, sponsorships and licensing ride on top of the typical network pickup fees), offer some insulation from the downturn.
Now that he’s running a startup and viewing traditional media companies from a remove, the digimogul concludes, “They don’t have the talent or mode of thinking or speed to market to deliver the best on the Web.”