TV Test Drive

Feb 19, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Two Silicon Valley viral video auteurs last week did their courtship dance with Hollywood, flying to Los Angeles for the day, renting a red Mustang and getting a taste of show business.

Randi Jayne and Jennifer Lee, known as “Randi and Jen” in Web circles thanks to their YouTube sensation “Mac in My Top,” took meetings with a talent agent, an online video CEO and the head of a television production shop. That’s what 2.3 million hits on YouTube gets you these days.

The women’s pilgrimage is part of the expanding relationship between do-it-yourself video creators and the television establishment. The results of the trip-nothing solid-reflect the ambivalence of both parties toward the partnership. Hollywood is trying to figure out how to wring money from online talent, while some viral video stars aren’t sure TV is the best outlet for their creativity.

“The Hollywood folks feel we are only successful if you get a TV show on a network and they own it and fund it and it’s a huge multimillion-dollar production,” Ms. Lee said. “But we are not sure if that’s who we want to be.”

The path the viral video pair is treading has been walked by others. YouTube star Brooke Brodack, a video blogger, scored an NBC development deal last summer. The creators of “Ask a Ninja” came out of nowhere to command 30 million views per year for their online show, scoring them a seven-figure deal with Federated Media, a company that connects online talent with marketers.

Ms. Jayne and Ms. Lee have not inked any deals yet that will enable them to quit their day jobs in the tech business. The video that shot them to prominence, a parody of the “Dick in a Box” skit on “Saturday Night Live,” features the women trying to pique the interest of nerdy Silicon Valley men by concealing laptop computers in their lingerie. The clip displays the homegrown hallmarks of most viral video clips: low production values, shaky camera work and disjointed choreography.

Douglas Ross, founder of independent production shop Evolution Media, who met with Ms. Lee and Ms. Jayne, said they are already a step ahead of every other writer in Hollywood who lands a pitch meeting.

“2.3 million people checked them out, and that doesn’t happen for something that doesn’t resonate with the public,” he said.

Mr. Ross said he plans to work with Ms. Lee and Ms. Jayne to develop ideas for Web programming. The duo also had a meeting with Room 403 Productions, which invited them to audition for a network show it’s creating using viral video talent.

Even if viral video auteurs want a TV show, they face the same gantlet of pilots, production and scheduling that make getting a show on the air such a low-odds proposition.

That creates a niche for video-sharing sites like Veoh or Revver, which offer creators a cut of advertising revenue or download fees.

“Not everyone is doing this to make money or to become famous,” said Jordan Levin, the former CEO of The WB who’s a founding partner now with Generate, a new media online production shop and talent management firm.

Ms. Lee and Ms. Jayne are also exploring Veoh Networks. That site’s CEO, Dmitry Shapiro, made his pitch to host their content during a phone meeting last week.

“I can’t fund your show, but I can promote it on the home page, I can promote it in our newsletter and I can distribute it to YouTube and MySpace from our site,” he said.

The freedom gained by remaining independent Web sensations might persuade them.

“I think we will start using Veoh,” Ms. Jayne said.