Break Acquires HBOlab

Break Media has purchased HBOlab, a.k.a. Runawaybox, Break CEO Keith Richman confirmed to NewTeeVee today. This was a deal we’ve been following for a couple months now, but according to Richman, this morning he is meeting with HBOlab team for the first time as Break employees.

Richman called the deal price “not overly significant.” It includes HBOlab’s existing shows, equipment, and 3-4 employees. HBOlab general manager Fran Shea will not be joining Break. Despite continued investment over the years, HBOlab had languished at HBO (s TWX), where it was hampered by fear that original web content would dilute the HBO brand (hence the “Runawaybox” moniker).

Meanwhile, Los Angeles-based Break is stepping up its branded content efforts, with at least seven fully sponsored branded series in production now. Though HBOlab hadn’t tackled branded content, those folks do know how to produce web video very well, so they are basically hires for Break’s production team. They will also continue to produce their shows Man in the Box and Elevator as well as sketch comedy bits. Richman did not mention future plans for HBOlabs’ Michael Buckley development deal or the YouTube-stars-as-actors show Hooking Up, though he said all remaining HBOlabs assets had been acquired.

Break, which focuses on web content that appeals to males, has played around with original content for a while now, creating a web show with Endemol and teaming up with the creators of Saw to produce an original online horror film in 2007. Richman said of those projects today, “We bit off more than we could chew at that point in life.” Now, the company feels relatively strongly positioned in the marketplace compared to its web video peers, and is giving original content another go.

Richman said Break is looking to acquire additional startups, but probably not digital studios. “Audience or advertising opportunities” would be more likely, he said.

TV networks seem to have a lot of trouble with web originals. And it’s not necessarily a problem of too little resources; many HBOlab-like projects have seen millions of dollars down the drain. Another HBO-spawned web comedy site — ThisJustIn, a joint venture with AOL — was simply shut down in 2007. It was actually in the same Santa Monica office space as HBOlab. Turner’s SuperDeluxe closed down and NBC shut its DotComedy as well.