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CNET Video Incubator Getting Started

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Webshots, like a cat with nine lives, is going in for another reincarnation. This time it wants to play big mama to fledgling video stars, offering them money along with professional tips. It is an effort on part of CNET, the parent company of the Webshots video sharing and hosting community.

CNET sees these efforts as video incubation. The company’s Project Spotlight, announced at the end of last year, offers cash grants and professional advice to vloggers to create new episodic web shows.

Webshots, the one of the largest photo-sharing communities on the web, has been getting an overdue revamp as of late. In August, the Webshots interface went through a major overhaul, and in November, it added video uploads.

In an attempt to foster participation in Project Spotlight, the company is launching a show called Wink to cover photo and video production. Check out ‘Episode Zero‘ (the show was called Snap at the time).

The creators, who happen to be our friends, were nice enough to put together an introductory preview of Wink for the audience here at NewTeeVee:

NewTeeVee Teaser

Ben Brown came to CNET through their acquisition of his site Consumating. Brown brought experienced video producer Schlomo Rabinowitz on board in a training and consulting role. Wink‘s host, Leah Culver, gained a bit of web notoriety by convincing advertisers to underwrite the cost of her new MacBook.

Having spent the last year and half working on projects to educate people about vlogging, Schlomo has been on a mission. “When I got to YouTube and look at the right hand column there’s the director videos — yet the big screen I’m watching is someone’s cameraphone clip of a man falling off a ladder. Where do you bridge these two groups? How can you empower this person who’s just making this ‘guy falling off a ladder’ to think about what they’re making and the power of this new medium?”

Up to twenty thousand dollars will be made available to production teams, along with professional advice and the promise of whatever resources they can wrangle from CNET. Creators will own their own content — what Project Spotlight is asking for is exclusivity for some period of time after the content debuts, similar to the deal Jay Dedman and Ryanne Hodson signed with Podtech.

“The concept is to pick up a “season.” For instance, give me twelve episodes, give me fifteen episodes. Have your whole concrete idea, your whole arc…I believe in that model: It helps you generate acceptance quick, people get excited quick, they know it ends,” explained Rabinowitz. Potential participants might be the sketch comedy troupes that can be found on any college campus.

So why go with CNET? CNET started out as a cable network that moved online and know how to market new media. “They are incredibly good at making money off of content, and selling content sponsorships to brands. With the other shows, there’s opportunities for marketers to help define what the show is, so that their brand values can be built in in a sort of casual way. We’re not going to be making infomercials,” assured Brown. There are also nascent plans to work with other divisions within the network to highlight and promote the new shows.

The downside is negligible compared to the potential upside. If Project Spotlight funds a few duds, then Webshots and CNET are out a few thousand dollars. But one big hit could pay for a number of failed projects. Most importantly, it could launch the careers of some lucky and talented creators, while also leaving them free to do their own projects and to participate in any profits after the exclusivity term lapses.

Rabinowitz compared Project Spotlight to another San Francisco startup that did quite well for themselves, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas’ American Zoetrope. “It’s about creators helping creators create,” he gushed. “Good content begets good content.” With Wink helping to educate the Webshots audience specifically and the web video audience generally, Project Spotlight funding a creative community and the technical resources at CNet’s disposal, the hope is that from an idea hatched over drinks could snowball into the Weblogs, Inc. of online video.

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