NBC Universal’s union with Web video shop 60 Frames last week may usher in a new urgency on the part of independent Web producers to cozy up to big media.
Web shows and producers increasingly say they need a big draw to break away from the pack. A celebrity, brand or deal with a company such as MySpace, Google or NBC can be that silver bullet. But networks need the little guys too, because a pair-up with an independent can help them minimize risk and manage production costs when launching new Web programs.
Under the NBC-60 Frames deal announced last week, NBC is now pitching advertisers on a slate of original digital shows produced by 60 Frames, a Web financing and distribution shop founded by former UTA agent Brent Weinstein. If advertisers pony up, the shows will run across broadband, mobile, video-on-demand and other platforms.
That business model ensures that new digital programs are already financed and paid for before they even go into production, a smart bet for a new business in a down economy. NBC expects such alliances to become more commonplace, perhaps signaling that another phase of consolidation in online video has begun, as the indies clamber for dance partners.
“The alignments are more and more important,” said Cameron Death, VP of digital content at NBC Universal. “What we bring to the table is distribution, scale and reach. And we have a ton of digital sales people calling on brands every day.”
That’s alluring to both independent producers and venture-funded online TV networks, especially during a recession.
“Given the down economy in general and the ongoing scramble for broadband video ad dollars in particular, companies like NBCU, which have strong ad relationships and access to budgets, have even more partnership appeal,” said Will Richmond, industry analyst with VideoNuze.com.
A willingness to entertain a number of flexible business models is an asset to a Web video company, Mr. Weinstein said. Such partnerships are not new to Web producers or to 60 Frames; his company previously inked a deal with MySpace to distribute the 60 Frames fashion advice show “Who What Wear.”
Then there’s TV writer Seth MacFarlan,e who partnered with Google to syndicate his Web comedy, “Cavalcade of Comedy.”
But big media doesn’t hold all the cards. TV networks aren’t Web experts, so linking arms with Web-bred producers can help a network crack the code for Internet video success.
“There is a scramble out there for major media companies to put as many stakes in the broadband video marketplace as quickly as they can,” said Mugs Buckley, an analyst with the Diffusion Group. “There is a bit of a landgrab going on.”
Online TV networks have fine-tuned a low-cost business model that is attractive to TV networks, said Jim Louderback, CEO of online TV network Revision3, who said he’s in talks with networks too.
“What you’re seeing here is the emergence of a third video medium. We have broadcast and cable and now we have Internet video and each of them are separate and distinct and they have their own storytelling mechanism and cost structure,” he said.
NBC gets something else in the 60 Frames deal. Because 60 Frames has either shot pilots or developed treatments and scripts for the shows, NBC can approach advertisers with a nearly formed product that’s still flexible enough to build a brand into.
Marketers are eager for more opportunities to integrate their brands into content viewers will likely want to see, said Adam Kasper, senior VP and director of digital media at Media Contacts, a division of Havas.
The deal is also a barometer of a healthy market.
“Anything that connects talented creators of online content with brands and advertisers helps to accelerate the growth of a new marketplace,” said George Ruiz, an agent with ICM who has brokered a number of digital media deals.
But a deep-pocket partnership is not a guarantee of success. Producers need to weigh the pros and cons on a union, said Brent Friedman, the executive producer of the Web series “Gemini Division” that runs on NBC.com. “Every small studio and producer is going to have … to ask themselves a tough question: Do I trade creative control for corporate backing?”
If Mr. Death’s inbox is any indication, many producers are clamoring to make such a trade. He said his e-mail has been flooded with pitches since the 60 Frames announcement.