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Seth MacFarlane’s Unconventional Big-Budget Web Series

Quite a few more details about Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade, the original AdSense series we’ve been tracking avidly, are divulged in a New York Times profile in Monday’s edition. Not much in the way of juicy deets about the actual content of the show, besides that each episode by the Family Guy creator will be two minutes long and will be different. MacFarlane describes Cavalcade as “animated versions of the one-frame cartoons you might see in The New Yorker, only edgier,” and one early installment is a bit about mad cow disease.

Rather, the focus here is on the novel business arrangement for producing the series, which consists of MacFarlane having a multimillion-dollar budget, based on production company Media Rights Capital selling advertising inventory for the series, which will be combined with the content and distributed by Google AdSense to sites that are demographically aligned. That’s interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which that AdSense is usually associated with contextually targeted ads sold through an automatic process.

There aren’t actually any numbers about the actual budget or expected revenue for the series, but the Times claims it’s “by far the largest amount spent on original Internet content to date.”

Google is trumpeting the advertising deals as some of the largest ever for AdSense, with a manager quoted as saying “We feel that we have recreated the mass media.”

However, while the deal may be groundbreaking, it’s not necessarily going to set a larger model for original online video. MacFarlane’s content is the best indicator that this project will be successful, combining the success of animation online, the bite-size format that does so well with web audiences, the preponderance and attractiveness of MacFarlane’s young male demo, and especially the known track record of Family Guy clips online.

MacFarlane said he saw the project as an opportunity to connect with his audience without being censored for broadcast television. He apparently also shaped the format and content of the series around “stacks of data showing how people interact with Web video,” and scrapped his original ideas since they were made on assumptions that the data disproved. It sounds like a spontaneity-sucking move, but it may just be the reality of getting content paid for online.

The resulting deal is a revenue split between four separate parties: MacFarlane, Media Rights, Google, and the web site where someone clicks on one of the syndicated videos. What the article doesn’t say is whether or not there will be a central web site that archives the episodes.

14 Responses to “Seth MacFarlane’s Unconventional Big-Budget Web Series”

  1. I agree with Sarah. The content is guaranteed success because there are advertisers on board who are willing to throw a ton of money into making sure that the brands they represent are in front of the “consumers,” people who don’t watch old tv. Google has a vested interest in making this happen, they are a corporation that makes money from ad revenue.

    The model in itself is not particularly innovative. It does represent a large step forward in the maturation of entertainment products on the internet. However, most of the underlying technologies that will be used have been around for awhile, this is essentially just a round integrating various tools. The “pay for placement/audience” strategies are more or less just an adaptation of the traditional marketing approach used by media conglomerates to push entertainment products to the masses. The difference is that with all of the tools that Google has in its arsenal, the advertisers will have accurate data on the actual number of impressions that occur, as well as the sales data that comes in from the Google Affiliate Network.

    As a whole, I welcome this development. It was inevitable and its good to know that framework for using this distribution method is in place. What will be interesting to see in the coming months is how Google will evaluate the partnership requests. In the long term, I think that the TubeMogul top 40 list will have more corporate media products listed in the top slots.

  2. The NYT article mentions that there are already plans for a DVD release, which is a tremendous hedge, especially for someone who has a proven track record in home video like MacFarlane.

    In that regard, I don’t think this provides as much of a model for those who aren’t already household names.