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.


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