On paper, it sounds like the dumbest idea ever: build an entire channel around commercials. No shows, just commercials. You know, the things you skip with TiVo or curse online. But startup Firebrand, which launches tonight, believes there’s big business to be had in an ads-as-content model. And while I’m still skeptical of its long-term prospects — as a quick, entertaining distraction, it’s actually pretty fun.
Saying that it’s dedicated to “commercial culture,” Firebrand curates the site to include only what it considers to be the best video advertisements from around the world. You can peruse a host of ads from big-brand names like Nike, Apple and Volkswagen. Or you can watch Firebrand Live, which is a lot like MTV circa 1983. A window pops up to give you the commercial credits, and “commercial jockeys” or “CJs” walk you through the programming. This being the web, the host is, of course, a hot woman wearing a cleavage-revealing top.
Firebrand isn’t the first to put brands center stage. Honeyshed created a series of tarted-up infomercials for brands like Reebok. The big difference is that Firebrand isn’t trying to create original content, it’s showing actual commercials we’re already familiar with, created by top-level directors and production houses.
Firebrand is privately funded by NBC Universal (GE), Microsoft (MSFT) and GE’s Peacock Equity Fund. It makes money by charging advertisers to be on the site. But the company is quick to point out that it does not just accept any ad offered. Firebrand maintains that it wants only the best commercials. In addition to the web, Firebrand is available on mobile phones and will have an hour block of time on traditional TV on the ION Network from 11PM ET to midnight, Monday through Friday. This block is owned by Firebrand, so they’ll also sell ads (ironically, or is that more meta?) during that time. Additionally, there is a shopping cart icon that wasn’t yet activated — presumably this would let you shop on a brands site, and Firebrand would take some kind of finder’s fee or cut.
Technically, the site works fine. There were some glitches with Firebrand Live as it moved in between commercials, but the site is in beta, so that’s forgivable. The media player contains the standard playlists, favorites, sharing and embedding features. You can move from a smaller window to a larger one where you are prompted to watch more ads from that brand. Or you can browse the site by brand or genre.
I was all set to hate Firebrand, but then I watched one commercial. Then another. Then another. And then realized my deadline was fast approaching. But that’s why commercials have always been viral: they’re short, entertaining and oftentimes funny. Perfect for snacking (like this one for Xbox 360).
The problem is, what happens next? Good commercials are fun to watch, but they’re easier to find on YouTube, and I can’t imagine people making this a destination when we are already bombarded by advertisements throughout the day. And while the CJs are cute and all, they don’t add enough value to keep me tuned in.
Unfortunately for Firebrand, the only mark it’s going to leave on the world of entertainment is merely a footnote.
UPDATE: A lot of Google searchers are reaching this “Firebrand” story, but there’s a more current one detailing how the site is shutting down.