Startup Watch: For Your Imagination

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Distribution and production chops are probably the two most important things anyone can offer online video creators looking to amass a big enough audience to make a living. And there’s a raft of companies looking to fill that space, as we wrote last month in an essay about the professionalization of Internet TV. It’s definitely not easy money, but helping talented people negotiate the business world is a time-tested profession that’s ready for a digital upgrade.

For Your Imagination isn’t led by Hollywood vets or tech entrepreneurs; it evolved out of a boutique marketing firm of the same name. The company raised $1.2 million in January to develop, manage, write, produce, market, syndicate, and license web shows. It recently picked up Break a Leg (announced Tuesday), the long-form San Francisco-based online sitcom that’s been profiled on this site and won one of our screenings earlier this summer (minisode embedded above).

The deal with Break A Leg doesn’t include any upfront payments, according to For Your Imagination Chief Executive Paul Kontonis, who said he’s fine with Break a Leg creator Yuri Baranovsky’s desire to keep the rights. Rather, the company has built a website for the show (which uses embeds of Break A Leg hosted by blip.tv), and has 18 months to secure it advertising and sponsorship, with the ultimate idea of finding someone who wants to bring it to TV.

Not a bad deal for someone like Baranovsky. “They’re going to sell it for $5 million, like a Wallstrip,” claimed Kontonis, “not $2,000 an episode like what the online video networks are offering, and you’re lucky if you’re getting that.”

Among niche shows the company produces, such as bschooltalk — which, unlike Break a Leg, are generally written, shot, and edited in-house — For Your Imagination’s other standout project is with Patrice Oneal, a comedian who, so far, has been unable to find a way to get his crass sense of humor onto television without being censored more than he wants to be.

The Oneal concept is kind of a mockumentary — “behind the scenes” of The Patrice Oneal Show — a show that doesn’t actually exist, but is now drawing interest from traditional broadcasters, according to Kontonis. After first being released in May, the weekly show (this week‘s episode is embedded above; warning: it’s definitely offensive) is now getting about a hundred thousand views per episode, he said.

“After we shot the first teaser, and I didn’t cut half of it, [Oneal] said ‘Are you kidding me, are you going to let that go out?'” recalled Kontonis. “Now he’ll eventually be able to say to a broadcaster, ‘I’ve already proven this out, now let’s do the deal I want to do.'”

The ease with which Kontonis has been able to get into this business is telling; there’s a lot of people out there like Baranovsky and Oneal who would love to have someone tell them they can “make it” online. For Your Imagination already faces worthy competition, such as blip.tv, Next New Networks, and ON Networks. Among them, standards of success vary, with some happily calling the Internet the new farm team and others denouncing it. It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out.

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Ben

I’d advise anyone to avoid dealings with this joke of a company at all cost. They hire freelancers and don’t pay them a dime for their work and they’re mired in a slew of lawsuits. I just hope the courts award me for my money before this group of morons folds and files for bankruptcy. For Your Imagination displays unbelievably unscrupulous and unethical business practices; STAY AWAY FROM THIS COMPANY.

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