I’ll Take That TV Deal, Please!

14 Comments

Written by Daisy Whitney

There is a sense among the web video cognoscenti that you’re a sell-out if you aspire to make the leap from the web to TV. It’s the same mentality that dictates it’s hipper to only follow indie music than to admit you might like a tune from — gasp — top 40 radio.

Indeed, the possibility of crossing over from the web to the tube is perhaps one of the most divisive issues in the tight-knit web video community.

Brent Friedman, executive producer of the web series Gemini Division, told NewTeeVee that he deliberately aspired not to create a TV property. On the other hand, there are creators like Yuri Baranovsky of Break a Leg, who freely admitted at last week’s NATPE Los Angeles TV Festival that he views his web show as a “calling card” for a future TV writing gig.

But I especially notice this prickly subject of whether to cross over or not in the comments section for stories I write for TVWeek. When earlier this week I wrote about how I wanted the episodes for the new web show That Media Show to be embedded on the show’s home page (a change the show’s creator made about an hour later), I was chastised for being too “TV-centric.” The poster “TVguy” wrote: “So what you are saying is that you want it more like TV? Get out of your TV way of thinking.”

Web executives too are quick to point out they don’t aim to be traditional TV networks. Jim Louderback CEO of Revision3 responded to a recent column with this: “I think the focus on turning a web show into a television hit is misguided. They are different mediums, and if you keep your eye on the old media prize, you’ll by design be less successful with Internet video.”

A poster named John Hays added: “Why try to port backwards to an older medium?” I followed up with Hays via phone and he explained that he simply meant he doesn’t want to see web shows vacate the web for TV. But if they jump to TV and stay on the web, that’s ideal.

Because nothing can amass an audience like TV. Sorry to say, but it’s true. And unless they’re Gary Vaynerchuk or Kevin Rose — because those guys don’t need the money — I don’t believe it when a web star says s/he isn’t interested and wouldn’t even consider TV.

That’s because traditional TV still has a bigger audience, bigger money, bigger everything. And like it or not, that’s still what most creators want.

So you know what I think web stars and shows should do? Tap into those TV coffers to their advantage. If a network is hot for you, grab that cash and use it to demonstrate to a much wider audience that there is awesome stuff originating online.

Web shows should court TV networks and TV networks should woo web stars. The more the two mediums tangle, the more quickly advertisers will funnel financial support into web video.

Daisy Whitney is a contributing writer with TelevisionWeek and the host of the New Media Minute, a weekly webcast on the business of online video.

14 Comments

Ned Canty

I was trained in theatre, and worked in the field for years before switching over, and I think that the world there is a good model for what might eventually happen to the world of serialized entertainment. That is, there is a very full spectrum of employment, from Community Theatre (often great, often horrid) to Regional Theatre, to Off-Off-Broadway, all the way up to the heights of a full Broadway show. Artists work across all of these spectrums, and the work they do is essentially the same–that is, Hamlet is Hamlet whether you are playing it in Bosie or on Broadway. You have different budgets, sometimes you get paid well, sometimes hardly at all, but the work of the actors, directors, etc, is the same–tell the best story possible. What this means is that the goal of many actors is not to be rich, but just to pay their rent by doing what they love–to be a “working actor”, rather than a waiter who acts sometimes.
15 years ago there was no model for an artist who told stories over time to work in any medium other than network or cable TV. You could make a show for community television, but the audience limitations prevented most shows from gaining a larger audience.
Now that there is a way for these artists to tell their stories for a wide audience, but the essential work of the artists is the same. The financial models may eventually allow for the equivalent of a “working producer”, someone who makes their rent writing, producing, acting, etc, on shows with limited or alternative distribution. No house in the Hamptons, but no more temping, either.
All of this is a long way of saying that the work of the artists remains essentially the same (obviously there are differences between a web show and a TV show, but the similarities are greater than the differences, I would argue). If you can make a living self-producing and self-distributing, great. If you can have a show that earns more money or gets a wider audience by selling to a network, great. Keep making good art, and keep making the rent.

Clay Nichols

DadLabs would take a TV deal.

Our model, however, has always been to pick a niche that was too small to appeal to old TV. The great thing about producing for the web is that the economics allow you to make money with a smaller audience and a more handcrafted product.

That said, we do have a shopping deal with a major LA production company. Here’s the hilarious part, they are shopping a show about the making of our show (a la Tool Time). We wouldn’t be directly involved in the production, so we wouldn’t make much cash. But it’s fun to think about who would play Daddy Brad in the series.

Enric

Liz,

I was overly harsh in my comment. First I want to say I really enjoy your writing (among other on NewTeeVee) and read NewTeeVee almost daily.

I was a film student in College and also worked in dot.com’s during the prior dot com boom. So, I was a bit skeptical of the early pronouncements in the new media area, though I was much and still am somewhat involved in videoblogging. I saw at least some of new media would go through the Cinema stages of shooting raw life at inception (first person videoblogging testimonials) to more produced and story driven forms (which it looks to be following with shows and small studio like networks.)

There’s a tendency when a new technology emerges to see very optimistic, sweeping changes which are ahead of the curve. The problem with that, is it’s usually followed by pessimism when those predictions fail. But in the second wave large, deep changes like google, amazon emerge (from prior dot.com bust.) I see there will be significant changes in new media, but it will probably be apparent 2-3 years from now. It may be Revision3 or some other entities — I don’t think it’s clear yet.

Enric

I’ve felt since I started involvement in VideoBlogging in 2005 that an anti-TV and anti-commercial was dogmatic. It seems like many have been taking their cues from the record industries mishandling of music downloads, thinking the TV & movie studios where the same animal. But they’ve shown to be more intelligent and innovative on the offers for website viewing and endeavors like Hulu. NewTeeVee in the beginning had a similar ideology of New TeeVee good old TV bad — which looks to be moderating as numbers hold up for TV viewing and advertising on UGC is not looking favorable.

Chris McCoy

We just landed a deal with Comcast Spotlight in Seattle to put 16 episodes of our fan-generated Top 10 highlight show for high school sports–originally created for the web– in over 760,000 Seattle-area homes beginning this Fall. Their marketing package is $230k over 5 months, and the deal will bring in solid revenue for our growing company. We see getting into the ‘living room’ as the key to the sports media 2.0 space. This is a good start.

Chris McCoy
YourSports Network
http://www.yoursports.com

Jim Louderback

It’s not that we wouldn’t welcome attention, money and love from traditional television, it’s that here at Revision3 we’re not defining our programming with that goal.

If someone (anyone) out there wanted to lavish lucre on us to reformat Scam School, Internet Superstar or Diggnation into a 30 or 60 minute TV show, we’d welcome them with open arms and enthusiastic energy.

But we’re not defining success in those terms. We’re developing television programs that work as great internet products first, rather than ones which are tested on the ‘net, but ultimately are destined for traditional TV.

Internet television has a markedly different story arc, visual style, pacing and casting requirements compared to what works on broadcast or cable. We’re more interested, today, in discovering the right formula for great internet television, than in building programs for an already well-defined medium.

  • jim louderback, CEO Revision3
Felicia

The leap to TV “legitimacy” for web productions is not as easy nor as lucrative as it seems like it would be. The mainstream Hollywood attitude towards web content is very confused, and the offers to take web content to TV or to “branded” web networks are ridiculously low, with few guaranteeing you’ll ever be attached in any capacity in later formats. TV networks want people to work inside their system, to go through their layers of development, to give up creative control: All for not spectacular money unless you actually get the show going, a longshot.
Yes, if you can get the money there’s no reason not to go. But TV picking up spec material has never been a tradition, and breaking that mold is difficult.

Chuck Boyce

It’s all very early and frankly at this stage of the game if you can pay your rent and eat off of your endeavors in new media your ahead of like 98.5% of everyone else. No one should ever have to apologize for paying their rent. (I love Pavement and indie rock as much as the next guy, but those guys should have signed when they were the darlings of rock.)

The technology is going to change even more rapidly in the next few years and the old media dinosaurs and Old Media resistance are going to vanish before you know. Those clutching to “the way things have always been” will retire, get laid off, or get with it (or at least pretend to).

I think it was Bill Gates who said at Davos a couple years ago that internet video and TV would be indistinguishable from one another in the future (before you pounce, I think he meant UI presentation, not content). That’s where we’re heading at long term technologically, so worrying about these present day distinctives has merit, but it’s all going to change a LOT and faster than you think.

Personally, I’m busy enough trying to absorb Flex, AS2, AS3, Silverlight, Premeire, AE, etc., film, encode, edit, and occasionally get paid than worry about these interim transitions. But I’m a geek.

;-)

Chuck

Brent Friedman

To clarify, my aspiration NOT to create a TV show was more creative than business related. Because Afterworld (my first show) and now Gemini Division (released online Aug. 18th) are true multi-platform series, I did not want the design of the show to be constrained to MY old ways of thinking, having worked in primetime television for more than a decade. For this reason, my writing staff and I constructed a subjective narrative told by a single character exclusively through her PDA – this approach is not what you traditionally would see in TV, but over the web it offers the viewer a unique 1-to-1 experience. That said, if an online show – mine or anyone’s – successfully migrates to TV, this is a wonderful thing. But again, that was not my intention or aspiration from the outset.

theshadowfan

I’d take it too. I think the thing is not to ditch new media for old media if you do get a deal. Bridge the gaps and your fans will follow you anywhere.

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