Digital Dealmakers: Dave Noll

Jul 17, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The player: Dave Noll, president of City Lights Television, a TV production company that launched a digital division late last year to produce shows for mobile phones, video-on-demand, broadband and other new media forms.

The play: The company’s new digital unit, City Lights Digital, has snagged deals with VH1, online video site Heavy.com, video-on-demand provider Mag Rack and edgy online video magazine Nerve.com to create new media content. City Lights is the producer behind Heavy’s new online show “Heavy News,” a daily news spoof slated to premiere online Monday. Fashioned in a Jimmy Kimmel vein, the show will include fresh clips daily with an emphasis on the irreverent. That could include a frog puppet superimposed on President Bush’s shoulder or a Cyndi Lauper impersonator reporting on avian flu. The digital division planted its flag with the original mobile series “Dingo Ate My Video” for VH1, which premiered in April and has been seen on Sprint TV, Amp’d Mobile and VH1’s broadband site. City Lights recently inked a deal with Collegehumor.com to produce a series.

The pitch: As a company, City Lights hangs its hat on ideas, adhering to a philosophy of throwing as many pitches as possible and seeing what sticks. The company’s development department for the TV division pitched more than 380 ideas in more than 150 pitch meetings last year. The result: deals to produce 28 shows for 20 networks. Mr. Noll believes production houses need to produce shows for new media to succeed. “We don’t just see this as something extra to make revenue from,” he said. “We see this as a potential leading revenue-maker in the upcoming years, so we want to get in early.”

Backstory: City Lights Digital grew out of 4-year old City Lights Television, which is slated to produce more than 260 episodes of TV for 2006, including series for TLC, HGTV, AMC, WE and Discovery Home. That’s up from six episodes in 2004. City Lights TV itself is a division of family-owned City Lights Media Group, a post-production facility founded 25 years ago.

The money guys: As a company, both City Lights and its TV group are profitable. The digital division is not yet.

In the mix: TV production competitors include Atlas Media Group and True Entertainment.

The pros: Producing content for digital vehicles widens the field for production houses. Rather than selling services only to a finite field of broadcast and cable networks, producing for digital opens up a large realm of potential clients. “There are so many places to make money,” Mr. Noll said.

The cons: That wide open field is also the challenge. “You have to be careful not to get involved with Web sites that are so small that you couldn’t possibly make any money. Now there are so many choices that the pieces get smaller and smaller,” he said.

How do you see your family watching TV in five years? In the near future, TV watching will feel more akin to a combined Internet and television experience, with TV networks on the Internet and online networks on TV sets, Mr. Noll said. “You can go to ABC.com and click on ‘Desperate Housewives,’ but I also think you will be able to on that same TV go to Heavy and click on your favorite show too.”

Which current media entities are most threatened? “The people who are only thinking in half-hours and hours,” Mr. Noll said. “The people who are looking at somebody like Heavy or CollegeHumor and saying, ‘Don’t worry about them.’ Those are the people who are going to be caught off guard.”

The intersection of TV and the Web: Mr. Noll believes the digital media world has not yet unearthed the first breakout straight-to-digital series. “Eventually someone will come up with a series that everyone is talking about and it won’t have aired on any network … When that happens it will be a tipping point.”

First job: Mr. Noll worked as a camp counselor in high school and college.

Who knew?

The 34-year old Mr. Noll was a choir boy in middle school and attended St. Thomas Choir School, a boarding choir school, in Manhattan as a child. He no longer sings in choir, but said he is quite good at karaoke. He attended American University in Washington and earned a degree in communications. Mr. Noll is married with two young children. Before joining City Lights in 2002, he spent six years in production and development at VH1.