Black20 Bucks Web-to-TV Trend


Hundreds of would-be filmmakers post their videos online every day, hoping to catch the eye of a television exec and make it to the big-time. J. Crowley and Neil Punsalan have been there and done that, and now they’re out to prove it’s a sham.

black20.jpgHaving left their jobs at NBC, the two founded an independent production shop called Black20, with the intended side effect being showing their old bosses, and everyone else, how web video is done. As for the main effect — well, that would be reinventing the whole notion of a TV network.

Arrogant goals, indeed, but they’re doing pretty well so far, with an estimated 10 million views of their clips under their belt.

A couple years ago Crowley and Punsalan — now aged 26 and 29, respectively — parlayed their day jobs as pages giving tours at NBC into an elevator ambush of Jeff Zucker. Shockingly, it eventually led to them getting hired by the network to produce a web comedy show. The series was called Out of Context, and they describe it as “Weekend Update meets Daily Show with sketch comedy.”

You’ve never seen that show, because not a single episode was released. It all got caught up in the NBC bureaucracy of market testing and business strategy meetings, as the two of them tell it. “We were kicking and screaming for months saying put our stuff out there,” recalled Crowley (he’s on the left in the photo) in an interview on Tuesday.

Crowley added, “Here I was at a broadcasting company, but there were kids out there in middle America getting their content up twice as fast.”

One day, the guys thought up a quick hit, unrelated to the show, about the secret life of the Easter Bunny. They quickly shot it and Punsalan posted it online without checking with the bosses. Soon “The Easter Bunny Hates You” was racking up millions of views; it ended up being one of the biggest viral hits of 2006. Now NBC uses the clip as an example of its viral video chops.

The guys claim they’ve dialed in on how to make a viral clip, but they’re looking to establish consistent shows as well — for instance, Black20News just launched, and a music channel is in the pipeline. They’ve put together a pretty flashy destination site with the requisite forums and ironic t-shirts for sale.

At the moment, Black20 is in hardcore startup mode. Like, bragging-about-your-neckbeard hardcore. They’ve got six employees in Brooklyn, along with “an army of interns,” and are raising angel funding and talking to advertisers. They’re building an audience for their movies by posting them to MySpace and YouTube; at the moment it would cost too much to support embeds from their own site.

So what’s the end goal, if it’s not making the leap to TV? The two say they want to build a broadband network. Of course, the TV analogy is lurking in the background. Punsalan said he wants to emulate “the way MTV was hip and cool in the 80s.”


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