Web star Taryn Southern has signed a deal with digital entertainment company Break Media, giving the studio/distributor an exclusive first look on each of her projects for a six-month period, and giving her the opportunity to use its resources for production, distribution and promotion.
“First-look” deals of this kind are not unusual for major studios: In just the last few weeks, The Onion and Ryan Reynolds struck partnerships with CBS and Fox, respectively. However, this deal may be the first of its kind for a web star and a digital studio, and it is almost reminiscent of how Hollywood operated during the 1930s and ’40s, signing up talent as contract players to work exclusively on in-house productions.
The 21st century twist is that Southern, who first came to wide attention with the web series Private High School and has since appeared in projects ranging from The Temp Life to Battle: Los Angeles, is not just an actress but a writer and producer, and will be creating her own projects for Break consideration, with the rights eventually reverting back to her. Southern’s last three comedy videos have racked up over 23 million views across various video sites.
“Frankly, the reason why I wanted to do this is that she’s so much more than just one-off videos,” SVP of Entertainment Development Greg Siegel said in a phone interview. “We wanted to be in business with her for more than just a single project. The real incentive is her as a creator.”
The plan, according to Siegel, is to develop projects with Southern not just for web distribution but also other platforms, including international markets and DVD — and not just repackaging content for those alternate channels, but shooting additional material appropriate to the medium.
“A lot of companies don’t embrace [the multi-platform approach] as a strategy — they just worry about attaching an advertiser and putting it out there,” Southern said. “I’m really thrilled that Break wants to work with me. It’s a perfect company for me to be working with.”
Those projects will take the shape of functionally standalone videos with a uniting format or character that are similar to franchises like Fred or Second City’s Sassy Gay Friend, which can be watched out of sequence with no consequences. Those premises can then be developed and pitched for other platforms, including television.
“We’re trying to take advantage of web’s viral nature, and the only way is through character and format — not necessarily storyline,” Southern said. “A lot of serialized content struggles to get eyeballs.”
Break will also help Southern engage with the brands that fund Break content; one property in particular is being developed with with plans to attach a sponsor.This may be the first of similar deals Break Media will make with talent — “the right piece of talent,” Siegel specified. According to Southern, her first collaboration with Break should be online by late summer or early fall.