Poised to Leap: 10 Web Video Creators
TVWeek Spotlights the Leaders in the Race to Go Humongous
It’s a safe bet: The Web-video world eventually will spawn a show that goes big, either becoming the Internet’s first “Friends” or leaping to the television screen and making a splash there. The question is who will be the genius behind the hit.
TelevisionWeek keeps a keen eye on Web programming to find the creators with that certain something that will separate them from the wannabes. While predictions are risky, and the knack for finding hits is rare, we’ve identified talents that we think have a shot.
This inaugural feature profiles 10 potential heavyweights, based on an online poll, reader comments at TVWeek.com and a heavy editorial thumb on the scale.
Beckett & Goodfried
Creator: EQAL, a creative team that includes Miles Beckett and Greg Goodfried. Mr. Beckett graduated from medical school and practiced to become a plastic surgeon before devising the idea for “LonelyGirl15” in 2006. A law school graduate, Mr. Goodfried began crafting “LonelyGirl15” during his first year as an attorney.
Shows: The “LonelyGirl15” series includes “LonelyGirl15,” “KateModern” and the upcoming “LG15: The Resistance,” launching Sept. 20. Collectively, “LonelyGirl” and its spinoffs have been viewed more than 170 million times on the Web. As the show’s creative team has grown from two to more than 10, maintaining the “voice” of the characters becomes more complicated, Mr. Beckett said. “As things go from treatment to script to shooting to editing to post-production to going live on the site, the voice needs to be 100% consistent from the character.”
Advertisers: Past advertisers have included MSN, Paramount, Disney and Procter & Gamble. EQAL has not yet disclosed advertisers for “LG15: The Resistance.”
Distribution: “LG15: The Resistance” is being distributed on MySpace, Veoh, YouTube, Hulu, iMeem and LG15.com. Mr. Beckett said he’s not pursuing TV deals for the show right now. “It’s low on my list.”
What’s to like: “LonelyGirl 15” was the first breakout Web-video series and the show’s producers have displayed a willingness to adapt to audience demands. The latest show will release new episodes on Saturdays for 12 weeks, following a release schedule similar to traditional TV.
What’s not to like? The challenge is driving interest in the show’s spinoffs. “KateModern” did extremely well with 50 million views, but that’s less than half the views for the original “LonelyGirl15,” which drew 120 million views.
Creator: Big Fantastic, a digital media production shop in Los Angeles comprising Douglas Cheney, Chris Hampel, Chris McCaleb and Ryan Wise.
Shows: The team has produced several high-profile Web series including “Sam Has 7 Friends,” “Prom Queen,” “Foreign Body” and “Sorority Forever,” the latest effort, which launched last week. “Sorority Forever” stars Jessica Rose of “LonelyGirl15” fame as a reluctant sorority pledge. The most-viewed Web shows and videos often tend to be comedic, but Big Fantastic contends that demand is strong for drama online. “What’s most surprising to us is that, two years later, there are still very few high-quality scripted dramas made directly for the Internet,” Mr. McCaleb said.
Advertisers: Advertisers for “Sorority Forever” include H&M on TheWB.com.
Distribution: The show is carried on TheWB.com and also runs on its own custom site on MySpaceTV. Episodes premiere on those two sites exclusively before TheWB.com makes the show available to additional distribution partners such as Veoh, TiVo, AOL, Daily Motion and Sling. The show also will run on Verizon mobile phones via VCast.
What’s to like: Most of Big Fantastic’s shows have fared well. “Prom Queen” earned more than 20 million views and the current show, “Sorority Forever,” will get an added boost from promotion on TheWB.com.
What’s not to like? Big Fantastic is leaning heavily on edgy drama for a young-adult audience, and the creators risk being typecast.
Creator: Brian Dalton, founder of Lazy Eye Pictures. Mr. Dalton is a writer and filmmaker who also created and stars in the Web series “Mr. Deity,” playing the title character.
Show: “Mr. Deity” is a comedy series about God and how he manages the universe alongside his assistant, Jimbo. A self-proclaimed “Formon” (former Mormon), Mr. Dalton conceived the idea for the show after the tsunami of 2004. “I used to be really religious, and then I became a skeptic, but I am still interested in the subject and in religion and God,” he said. He kicked the idea around for a few years and, after friends and actors turned down the starring roles, decided to cast himself and friend Larry Marshall in the main roles. Being the director and star created its own set of challenges. “It took me a while to figure out how to act and direct at the same time,” Mr. Dalton said.
Advertisers: Ads for Honda and other site sponsors have run against the show on Crackle.com, its home.
Distribution: Mr. Dalton shot the first three episodes and posted them on YouTube in January 2007. After an early episode was featured on YouTube, views shot up and Sony took notice of the show. Sony now pays a production fee for “Mr. Deity” and distributes the show on Crackle. Sony and Mr. Dalton currently are working on casting the third season of the show and want to introduce a new character in each episode to be played by a celebrity. The celebrity factor helps drive press coverage, Mr. Dalton said.
What’s to like: The show can be wickedly clever as it both pokes fun and pays homage to religion. Envisioning “Mr. Deity” as a studio executive type is a stroke of genius.
What’s not to like? Mr. Dalton wants to bring the show to TV, but that may prove tough, as the show would be too edgy for all but the most progressive cable networks.
Creator: Felicia Day, actress-writer-Web producer, has become the patron saint of online talent. She has one of the highest profiles among actresses working on the Web and is well-regarded by the online community that’s active on social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.
Shows: A self-proclaimed “rebel at heart,” she wrote, produced and starred in “The Guild,” an independent Web series that has garnered more than 9 million views and numerous awards. She starred alongside Neil Patrick Harris in Joss Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” this summer and played Vi in eight episodes of Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on TV in 2003. Her new projects include a sitcom she’s writing for Machinima.com. “I’m most surprised about how much happier I am having my own show on the Web than when I was just another actress in Hollywood.”
Advertisers: “The Guild” is supported by fan donations, and a DVD of the show is available. “We have turned down a lot of deals because we haven’t felt the partner was a perfect fit for our vision of the show,” she said.
Distribution: The Guild is distributed at www.WatchTheGuild.com, MySpace and YouTube. The first season ran for 10 episodes and the second season launches next month.
What’s to like? “The Guild” is a wry portrayal of a group of online gamers whose dysfunctions make them lovable. The writing is tight and actors turn in surprisingly coherent performances.
What’s not to like? The show is still self-funded and has yet to land an advertiser on its own. That model has a lot of street cred, but isn’t financially viable for long. Production values need to improve to hit the level of other top-level Web shows.
Feldstein & Roth
Creator: Mark Feldstein and Brad Roth, co-presidents of Stun Creative, an advertising, branding and promotion agency in Los Angeles that also is producing Web series.
Show: The10-episode Web series “The Writers Room” depicts the inner workings of a group of TV writers. Sony-owned Crackle acquired and distributed the show this spring. The producers are in talks with Crackle about running a second season of the show, likely this fall. Sony also has commissioned Mr. Feldstein and Mr. Roth to create an additional celebrity-driven comedy series that will run on Crackle, Hulu and YouTube.
Advertisers: Crackle ran pre-rolls and overlay ads against the show for movies such as “Get Smart” and “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” as well as consumer products such as Rogaine.
Distribution: Crackle distributes the show on its comedy channel “C-Spot.” Crackle then syndicates that comedy channel to YouTube, MySpace, AOL and Hulu.
What’s to like: The Web is a stepping stone to TV for Stun Creative. “We also truly believe the Web still can be a way of incubating ideas for television. We look at our digital series as a proof-of-concept,” Mr. Feldstein said.
What’s not to like? Studios and video sites are demanding that producers bring celebrities and brands to the table. “Since so many celebrities and established television and film players are getting involved in the space, more and more distributors are insisting on series that have star talent,” Mr. Roth said. “It’s also becoming almost impossible to sell a series without a brand attached. The first season of ‘The Writers Room’ was sold strictly on the idea itself. That won’t happen again.”
Creator: Brent Friedman is creator and executive producer of the Web series “Gemini Division,” produced by digital media studio Electric Farm Entertainment. He has written and produced for film, TV and video games. “I migrated from old media to new media because, after 15 years, I was bored with the conventional wisdom that governs the film and television business,” Mr. Friedman said. “And, being a lifelong gamer, I wanted the stories to have a degree of interactivity.”
Shows: Mr. Friedman and his co-founders at Electric Farm Entertainment created “Gemini Division” and also the Web series “Afterworld,” which ran online last year. “Gemini Division,” which premiered online in August, is produced in association with NBC Universal Digital Studio and Sony Pictures International Television Entertainment. Set five minutes in the future, the series stars Rosario Dawson as a New York City vice cop on a trip in Paris. Viewers can interact with the show through an online alternate-reality game on NBC.com.
Advertisers: The show’s advertisers include Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, Acura and UPS. In most cases, the sponsors have been integrated into the storyline: For instance, Ms. Dawson’s character drives an Acura.
Distribution: The 50-episode series runs on NBC.com, SciFi.com, GeminiDivision.com and Amazon as well as mobile phones, the Xbox and via video-on-demand from cable operators Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon FiOS.
What’s to like: The show launched with four major brand advertisers. In addition, well-known actress Ms. Dawson can pull in audiences.
What’s not to like? “Gemini Division” is not available in most international territories. That has ticked off some of the heaviest consumers of Internet video who live outside of the United States. Also, some critics have said the show’s production values do not reflect the backing of a major media company.
Creator: Generate’s Sean Masterson, the writer, director and star of Web show “Republicrats.” He previously starred in the online series “Home Purchasing Club,” which ran on VH1’s broadband channel. His TV acting credits include “The Drew Carey Show,” “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and “Dream On.”
Show: “Republicrats” is a Web series developed by Generate, the digital production studio and management company led by Jordan Levin, former CEO of The WB. The show, about a fictional presidential candidate, airs twice a week on MSN. Generate also produces “Pink,” about a female assassin; its second season debuts this month.
Advertisers: Mr. Levin said Generate is currently closing a brand integration deal with a consumer packaged goods advertiser for “Republicrats.” Other advertisers include run-of-site advertisers on MSN.
Distribution: MSN carries the show and also syndicates it to MySpace, YouTube and other sites. The show has generated more than 500,000 views in the first three weeks. Also, Tribune-owned KTLA-TV in Los Angeles has been featuring Mr. Masterson on its morning news shows.
What’s to like? Given the level of public interest in the presidential campaign, “Republicrats” is well-positioned to grow in views over the next several weeks.
What’s not to like? The show has a limited shelf life and will end when the election is over. Advertising also remains a hurdle in general for Web video, Mr. Levin said. “There is considerable investment being made by the venture community and amongst both Hollywood players and independent players and traditional media companies, and advertisers need to step up to the plate and seed this arena if they want to see an alternative to traditional media,” Mr. Levin said.
Nichols & Sarine
Creator: Kent Nichols and Douglas Sarine, the creative team behind the hit Web show “Ask a Ninja.”
Show: In 2005 the pair of young comedians raised $60,000 from friends and family to start their Dear Abby-style Web series featuring a feisty ninja answering viewer questions and signing off with the tagline, “I look forward to killing you soon.” The show quickly became one of the most popular Web series ever, logging more than 100 million views total and averaging about 800,000 views per episode. Mr. Nichols said that in the year ahead he hopes to expand the “Ask a Ninja” team into a larger production company that can help find and nurture other Web talent.
Advertisers: Sponsors have included Microsoft, Toshiba, Doritos, Sony Pictures and Electronic Arts.
Distribution: The show is available on AskaNinja.com and iTunes.
What’s to like: Mr. Nichols and Mr. Sarine are savvy businessmen. Mr. Nichols said “Ask a Ninja” likely will evolve its format in the coming months. “It’s getting a little stale for us to write three minutes on one question, so we are looking to break it down to where we do episodes that answer a bazillion questions as one weekly wrap-up and then do short videos each day,” Mr. Nichols said. “We need to figure out a way to keep the creativity fresh.”
What’s not to like? The current format is limited and viewers may tire of the conceit. The key for Mr. Nichols and Mr. Sarine will be to either change the format or quit before the show feels old.
Creator: David Wain, executive producer and star of the Web series “Wainy Days,” a comedic look at the dating travails of one man. Mr. Wain is a New York-based director, writer and performer. He recently directed the Universal Pictures feature film “Role Models,” set to open in November.
Show: “Wainy Days,” which received a Webby Award this year for best comedy series, premiered in 2007 and has generated 6 million views over 26 episodes. “The original backstory to the show is when I was 11 or 12, I started to look around at girls and say, ‘Oh my God, I love those people,’” Mr. Wain said.
Advertisers: Fox SearchLight and Mr. Wain’s “Role Models” are sponsoring the show currently.
Distribution: MyDamnChannel carries the show and syndicates it to YouTube, MySpace, DailyMotion, iMeem, Facebook, Yahoo! Video and others.
What’s to like: Because of his Hollywood connections, Mr. Wain has landed high-profile guest stars including Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Elizabeth Banks, Janeane Garofalo and Ed Helms.
What’s not to like? The show’s humor is off-color and risky for advertisers and TV networks.
Creator: Joss Whedon, a director, executive producer and Academy Award-nominated writer (“Toy Story”). He is best known as the creator of TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” and “Firefly.” His newest show, “Dollhouse,” is scheduled to debut on Fox midseason.
Show: Joss Whedon crafted the breakout Web hit “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” about a bumbling super-villain and his crush on a young woman. The show is a 43-minute, three-part “Web musical” starring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day. Mr. Whedon wrote the show during the writers’ strike earlier this year as a statement about “scribes striking back,” he said. “I was surprised the media took it seriously as something other than a lark, because for us it was a lark. It was a deliberate lark and a calculated good time,” he said. But he’s aware that the show has become a measuring stick for the viability of Web video. “This Web series is about the freedom to create what I want to create,” he said.
Advertisers: Advertisers for the show include run-of-site deals on Hulu, from sponsors such as Degree. The show is on track to break even soon. Revenue comes from iTunes, sales of the soundtrack, advertising deals and from an upcoming DVD release. “In a couple months we can start paying off everybody,” Mr. Whedon said.
Distribution: The show premiered in July on DrHorrible.com and also on iTunes. The show was so popular the first day it ran that it crashed servers, yet it still generated more than 2 million streams in its first five days online. The show now runs on Hulu.com.
What’s to like: Because of Mr. Whedon’s track record in Hollywood, he was able to line up top-notch actors at practically no cost for the initial six-day shoot. Both TV and Web critics have gushed over the show.
What’s not to like? The show was a one-shot deal, with no sequel or follow-up planned.
Read Daisy's exclusive chat with Joss Whedon here.