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Attending the Strike.TV screening at the American Cinematheque last Friday was like going on a trip in a time machine. I say this not because the hour-and-a-half screening — broken up by lengthy Q&As with a wide range of cast and crew from the approximately 15-20 web series featured — was held at the historic Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles, but because the entire evening was mired in the year 2008.
This attitude came from comments made by the execs present, such as CEO Peter Hyoguchi, who admitted that the reason Strike survived the economic downturn was because it’d never managed to become a full-scale operation. “It’s good we never got funded, because you have to be in business to go out of business,” he said. But while during both the introductory videos and the Q&As, creators waxed romantic about the joys of producing their content for the web, free of studio notes and other restrictions (exactly the same points that were made in 2008), some of those same creators did engage in some real talk about just how far, financially, they were willing to take their labors of love.
For example, when moderator Bob Kushell asked if a new season of Dangerous Women would be forthcoming anytime soon, star/producer Ellen Sandweiss was quick to reply, “Are you gonna pay me for it?” And Fusion creator Richard Manning was equally upfront about there only being a pilot episode for his 2009 project, and needing some kind of funding in order to continue. “You can really only ask people to work for free once,” he said.
Anyone But Me creators Susan Miller and Tina Cesa Ward said that their show is currently funded thanks largely to a private investor, but if they can’t find a sponsor for its third season, they might have to make the show subscription-only — even after switching to a new distribution deal with Blip.tv.. Even Unknown Sender creator Steven De Souza admitted that instead of paying people conventionally, his cast and crew worked for “profit participation” — with the exception of his sound guy, who insisted on being paid upfront and who, I would guess, is one of the very few people to make a profit from his involvement with Strike.TV.
The night was kicked off by the first episode of Unknown Sender, starring Timothy Dalton, which was part of the site’s original launch back in October 2008. But more recent acquisitions like Coma, Period and Mountain Man were showcased for the half-capacity crowd. In addition, there were some previews of shows to come, and it was announced that Strike had acquired The Goob, a Swedish-produced animated series that will be distributed, unconventionally, through the websites for country-western radio stations.
Of the ten shows that were part of Strike’s initial launch, none of them except Unknown Sender went on to produce more than two episodes; the sixth and last episode of Sender was uploaded in December 2008. Since then, shows have come and go — some good, some bad — but from an outsider perspective, no franchise player has helped the site secure the traffic it needs in order to be sustainable. “We can only get the exclusive rights to a show if we can drive traffic,” CCO Ian Deitchman said.
In addition to the Goob deal, international travelers can now watch Strike content while flying on Virgin Australia, and COO Christopher Barrett said that an iTunes deal is likely, though due to the amount of content on iTunes currently, it’s a deal they’ll only make if they can properly promote it. Marketing their content in general was a major issue for Barrett — the problem is getting the financing to do so, given that advertisers aren’t excited by the “ratings” they currently have.
The long and the short of it is this: Sure, it’s cool to see the man who played James Bond on stage talking about the freedom that comes with producing content for the web — even if he hasn’t been personally involved with a web project since 2008. But welcome to 2010, guys, where the reality is that said content has to be good, and has to have a real business plan in place. As Barrett admitted Friday night, “We don’t know what we’re doing — we’re just figuring it out day by day.” Fifteen months into the site’s launch, that’s not exactly what anyone rooting for Strike.TV wants to hear.
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