Could Ben Silverman Make Web Video Mainstream?

Former co-chairman of NBC Entertainment Ben Silverman has got the pedigree of launching unassuming hits like The Office and Ugly Betty. He’s got the financial and technology backing of Barry Diller’s IAC (s IACI). And he’s got massive distribution through one of the largest Web portals in the world, Yahoo (s YHOO). But has he got the wherewithal to produce scripted, original programming that could finally make web video go mainstream?

Silverman’s new production company, Electus, will have web production and development help from IAC’s CollegeHumor, and it will get a first look and international distribution rights for content produced by a newly formed production company from Arrested Development stars Will Arnett and Jason Bateman called “DumbDumb.” But most importantly, Electus already has distribution and advertising wrapped up through a deal with Yahoo to create co-branded content for the Web portal and its advertisers.

Silverman won’t be the first of the old media elite to attempt the feat. Sony’s (S SNE) Crackle has poured millions into producing web shows like The Bannen Way and Angel of Death, and Michael Eisner’s Vuguru has created series like Prom Queen and Foreign Body. But at the end of the day, while those production houses saw “success” by web standards, the number of viewers they attracted was limited when compared to the type of audiences that broadcast TV programs bring in.

Will Silverman be able to translate his talent for TV production to make web video a hit? Cynics would say that Silverman spent nearly two years at NBC (s GE) unable to produce a true hit for the last-place broadcast network. But before joining NBC, Silverman founded Reveille, the production house responsible for TV shows like The Biggest Loser, as well as some web programming for Microsoft’s (s MSFT) MSN. And it’s not like his hit shows were big, scripted crime drama blockbusters. In fact, outside of star actor, writer, and director salaries, there’s probably little difference in the production of a show like The Office from an office-based web series like The Temp Life.

But most importantly, Silverman might just be at the right place at the right time. Takeup of web video continues to grow, especially viewing of full-length episodic content from sites like Hulu. Whereas Vuguru was early to the web video game, Electus joins just as consumers are getting comfortable with web video. Even more importantly, “web” video is no longer chained to the PC — users are getting online content delivered into the living room through connected TVs, Blu-ray players or set-top boxes like the Roku player.

So while it might be too early to tell if Electus will be able to produce web content that appeals to broadcast- (or even cable-) level audiences, I would not be surprised to see a hit come out of the group. And not just a web-sized hit, either.