How does an old media guy do new media? With big budgets, but not too big. And with his eyes on the prize of crossing over any one project onto all sorts of platforms.
In his “old world” experience of producing young adult media properties, Albie Hecht, CEO of web studio Worldwide Biggies and former president of Nickelodeon, said the upfront cost for a live action series could be $2 million; for an animated series, $10 million; or for a movie, $50 million. Now, he said, “It costs us under $50,000 to prototype something, max a quarter million to bring it to the marketplace.”
Hecht, who said his goal is to have both an IP library like Warner Bros. and a game library like Parker Brothers within 10 years, employs 25 in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. His latest project, El Vacio, will be released on Atom.com tomorrow. (Initial reports about the series when it was birthed during the writers’ strike used the English version of the title, The Void.)
El Vacio is a newteevee twist on the old show-within-a-show concept, with a cast of characters watching and spreading original “viral” videos made for the series. The 15-episode sketch comedy show is made by Dominic Dierkes, Jonathan Gabrus and Chris DeLuca, who have credits with web sketch group DERRICKcomedy; the Upright Citizens Brigade; Saturday Night Live; Best Week Ever and The Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson. See an early episode embedded above.
Unlike many other web series these days, the show wasn’t created with sponsors in mind (and in wallet). Revenue is coming through web distribution, at least initially; Atom has signed an exclusive license to the show. And Hecht claimed Comedy Central, which is closely affiliated with Atom.com through parent company Viacom, has expressed interest in showing the series on TV.
Hecht used a baseball analogy to lay out for us his strategy of monetizing a web series. Singles and doubles are casual games, revenue shares, PC games at retail, deals for branded or syndicated web series. Triples are TV distribution, console games, or virtual worlds. The “home-run derby” is movies and licensing. “We can survive on singles and doubles,” he said. It also helps that the company raised $9 million in August 2007 from NBC Universal, Platform Equity, Hearst Corp., Greycroft Partners and Prism VentureWorks.
The company wants to launch four more properties per year. Though investor NBC has an option to distribute and sell advertising against Biggies projects, that hasn’t happened yet.
But so far, Hecht’s strategy is seeing results. Worldwide Fido‘s user-generated dog videos morphed into a TV special on Nickelodeon. Spike TV (yet another Viacom property) is pulling Biggies’ MoCap, LLC (also with Gabrus and DeLuca) to television this fall after an initial run on GameTrailers. See Chris’ glowing review of that series for proof that it’s not only Hecht’s heft that are making these deals happen. And since CollegeHumor already turned its own mix of office mockumentary + viral videos into an MTV show (though not very well), maybe there’s a similar trajectory in store for El Vacio.