Web Sites Search for Next Big Star

Oct 2, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The round-the-clock online TV channel ManiaTV.com is on the hunt for the next viral video star.

The Internet TV network, best known as the online home of Tom Green’s live nightly show, started a video-sharing service this summer that operates as a talent-feeder program, helping the new-style TV network find shows and guest hosts.

Earlier this summer ManiaTV launched MyTV, an offshoot of the live Internet channel that works like YouTube, allowing users to post and share videos. MyTV goes a step further, however, by making the creators with the most-viewed videos eligible for a chance to guest host a show and perhaps ultimately to host his or her own show on ManiaTV, a new initiative that lets the site tap into the homegrown movement brewing in Internet television.

ManiaTV isn’t alone in scouring the Web for talent. In fact, ManiaTV is competing with TV networks such as Comedy Central, E!, MTV and others that regularly trawl both video-sharing sites and individual online video creators’ Web sites in search of the next big talent. While networks count the Web among their many sources for scouting talent, ManiaTV has already established a direct talent pipeline online.

The path of ManiaTV’s MyTV service is clear: Make your videos pop and you could be the next Brookers, the YouTube talent who signed a development deal with NBC’s Carson Daly. As networks scramble to ensure their competitors aren’t scooping up the next great garage video star, ManiaTV has already begun making offers to Web auteurs.

“We are using it as a proving ground and to incorporate into our programming,” said Richard Ayoub, executive VP of programming for ManiaTV. For example, the first new talent to percolate up through MyTV is Mark Berry, a videographer from Indiana who uploads original video a few times a week. His videos ranked in MyTV’s top 10 most viewed in July and August.

As a result, ManiaTV included some of his videos on its Internet TV show “Upload Yours,” which showcases user-generated and homemade videos. ManiaTV then offered him the chance to guest host that show, and he is slated to appear in an October edition. If he can pull that off, the next step would be to offer him a regular segment on a ManiaTV show, following in a fashion the formula that launched “Dr. Phil” from “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

“That is what we are hoping to do with these people,” Mr. Ayoub said. “This is the first real defined experiment to see if a viral video star can pull it off on a regular daily basis with a show.”

The most coveted spots on the network are from 8 p.m. to midnight Eastern time. Each hour is interactive, with viewer input. “Upload Yours” is followed by “Tom Green Live.”

But a video creator doesn’t always pop as a full-time host, and that’s why MyTV tries them out gradually. “The key is whether someone who creates a cool video that generates buzz can do that consistently and can be in front of the cameras,” said Drew Massey, CEO and founder of ManiaTV. “We bring in some of them to guest host the show, to see if they translate from videotape to live, if they do have the actual creativity and if they don’t freeze in front of the camera and under the lights. It’s the first shot at fame.”

ManiaTV was founded in 2004 and leapt into the broader cultural consciousness when it signed Tom Green to appear on a live show that started June 15. His show attracts about 20,000 to 25,000 viewers each night.

Still Growing

The site has grown from 1.5 million unique visitors in January to more than 5 million unique visitors in September, according to ManiaTV. Nielsen//NetRatings placed the site at about 900,000 uniques in August, though internal site numbers can vary widely from numbers reported by Nielsen. ManiaTV also boasts blue-chip advertisers such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Citibank, Ford Motor Co., Sony and Levis.

“Tom Green Live” does not count advertisers yet. From a marketing perspective, the site is more popular now that Mr. Green is on board, but advertisers are still wary about associating with shows that traffic in user-generated content, said T.S. Kelly, VP and director of research and insight for Media Contacts, the interactive arm of MPG. “For now, I think most marketers will prefer the Current.tv (Yahoo) or Soapbox (MSN) solutions, albeit with smaller potential viewers, over the Wild West options of YouTube and even ManiaTV,” he said.

However, he does like the “channels” concept on ManiaTV that lets both users and producers program their own channels to watch, mixing and matching from among a range of video clips. “The idea of letting users create their own `channels’ to share with others is quite unique-the ultimate expression of consumer as producer,” Mr. Kelly said. In the first six weeks, MyTV users created about 1,400 channels.

Whether ManiaTV unearths hot new talent remains to be seen. But that’s the goal. “This is redefining all sorts of models but not obviating the ones that have come before,” Mr. Ayoub said. “My hope and dream is to see guys and girls out there who are creative and want to be stars and seem to have some ability create their own show.”