Q&A: Safran Digital’s Jake Zim

Safran Digital Group poked its head up today with the news it had cut a deal to produce the Xbox’ first original video content. We caught up with the company’s co-founder and COO Jake Zim this afternoon to get the nitty-gritty details. Though he had to stay mostly mum until Microsoft makes its bigger announcements about content on the Xbox, Zim did tell us the tiny company is bringing in outside production shops to make eachsome of its shows. Safran lists the Independent Comedy Network among other partners on its site.

jakezim2.jpgWhat follows is a lightly edited transcript of our interview with Zim.

NewTeeVee: Just to start out, can you tell me how the Xbox content deal was struck?

Jake Zim: This deal is the foundation for the launch of the company, the Safran Digital Group, that came about because Peter Safran had all sorts of access to production and creative types, but didn’t have access to distribution options. What I had was a distribution network that didn’t have access to a lot of creators.

NewTeeVee: What were you doing before this?

Zim: I was running the digital team over at Fox Atomic, and was working on theatrical releases and the Hulu release, but I didn’t have a lot of flexibility in the types of content that I was able to access.

NewTeeVee: Did you approach Microsoft with specific ideas?

Zim: It was sort of a collaboration, but certainly it was a concept that Peter had, that they helped shape. Xbox is in many ways the Trojan Horse for us. It’s right there in the living room next to the big screen, and most importantly it’s got a built-in programming guide right there that’s succinct. There’s nothing like that on the web.

NewTeeVee: How far along in development are you?

Zim: We’re in production on a handful of these series or pilots. The launch of the content is supposed to be this summer.

NewTeeVee: Can you say whether or not you are using Peter Safran’s existing clients?

Zim: I think if you look at his talent management list and extrapolate from there. We’re not just focused on working with our clients, but being able to work across agencies. It’s safe to say we’re using some of his connections.

NewTeeVee: Will your shows be ad-supported, have product integration, for sale?

Zim: It’s a hybrid. I think everything’s working towards ad-supported now, but for now we can say it’s a hybrid.

NewTeeVee: Do you know how your content will be presented alongside other Xbox video content?

Zim: I can’t get into specifics on that, there’s still some decisions that will come along with the revenue model.

NewTeeVee: How long is the window of exclusivity on Xbox, and where else do you plan to distribute the shows?

Zim: It’s longer than the quarterlife window on MySpace, which is a day, but it’s significantly shorter than the longest window out there.

NewTeeVee: Are you working on anything else besides the Xbox shows?

Zim: We’ve got a handful of projects that we are working on.

NewTeeVee: Do you have a specific amount of funding?

Zim: We’re a wholly owned subsidiary of the Safran Company. We have two employees full-time. We’re certainly funded through the success of the Safran Company. We’re not funded by people out of this industry.

NewTeeVee: So most of your production is not in-house?

Zim: We are working with independent production groups to maintain flexibility and scalability.

NewTeeVee: What kind of budgets are you looking at — on the level of quarterlife or more scaled back for the web?

Zim: I think everyone would agree, if you want to make any money right now on the web, you’ve got to be making deals at the brand level. Financially the production budgets are really determined by what the economics of the moment are. One of the key points to our business is a non-exclusive relationship with The Marketing Arm, part of Omnicom. We work with smart people over there to figure out what the brand opportunities for our content are.

I think the key, at least for the web, is relevance trumps production value many times, and credibility trumps polish.