Column: Old, New Media Linking Hands
Can programming producers survive on revenues derived from Web distribution alone? The overwhelming evidence seems to say no.
Last week production shop Generate struck a multiyear television development and production deal to create scripted broadcast and cable series for 20th Century Fox Television, a move that helps Generate expand further into the television business.
The company has already established itself as both a Web producer, with online successes like “Pink: The Series,” and as an emerging TV producer, with shows like Comedy Central’s “Chocolate News.”
Adding a traditional TV development deal helps insulate Generate against the vagaries of producing for just one medium. And it’s clear that neither TV networks nor digital producers can afford to pin their hopes on just one viewing venue.
Cozying up to the old Hollywood guard seems to be an increasingly necessary step in order to thrive as a member of the new-media vanguard. EQAL, creator of the “LonelyGirl15” series, is crafting a companion Web program for CBS’ primetime series “Harper’s Island.” The Web show will be called “Harper’s Globe.”
Then there’s 60 Frames, a digital studio that formed a partnership with NBC last fall to create programming for NBC’s digital group.
These partnerships remind me of something that Internet comic Martin Sargent said when I interviewed him last summer. “If a TV network comes and offers me a deal, you bet I’m taking it,” he said.
TV networks and studios have deeper pockets, and producers need money to make their shows look good, whether they’re seen online, on mobile phones or on-air.
Also, TV networks can amass an audience, and the digital guys need that. “Sometimes we can’t provide that on our own, so we partner,” said Brent Weinstein, CEO of 60 Frames.
With decades of experience in marketing and financing shows, media companies have established best practices for distribution, advertising sales and marketing, said Greg Goodfried, one of the founders of EQAL. The benefits of EQAL’s partnership with CBS come in the form of marketing support and in the upfront production dollars. For “Harper’s Globe,” the network will drive tune-in to the Web show on-air.
“For us that’s a huge advantage, because I can’t buy that kind of audience,” Mr. Goodfried said.
The tradeoff is EQAL doesn’t own the underlying rights to the program. “We made a decision that it’s hard to finance your own intellectual property, so we are producers of ‘Harper’s Globe,’” he said.
Should we prepare a eulogy, then, for the Web as a revenue stream in and of itself?
“It’s not that the Internet isn’t enough,” said Tom Guida, an entertainment attorney with Loeb & Loeb who represents new-media clients including Comcast Interactive and EQAL.
It’s that every property needs to be everywhere. “You can make money with a Web series if you have advertising, but to maximize the value proposition you need to put the show everywhere,” he said.
That’s no different from what networks must do today. Networks are releasing their shows on multiple platforms. Digital producers need to do the same.
No one gets to play in just one sandbox anymore. We all have to get in each other’s sandboxes.