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Star Power Proving Its Potential on Net

Oct 5, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Internet upstarts are learning an old television trick: Celebrity sells.
When Sony-owned Crackle.com brings back Web sitcom “Mr. Deity” in the next few months, the show likely will feature some familiar faces. Like other online video sites, Crackle is trying to salt its shows with stars.
When Crackle rolled out its new fall lineup last month, the schedule was anchored by “Dating Brad Garrett,” starring and produced by the TV actor.
“There is so much video on the Web that to break through the clutter you do need a hook, and an obvious hook is a known brand and celebrity,” said Sean Carey, senior executive VP of Sony Pictures Television.
The pressure to snag a name to attach to an Internet project is felt far and wide in the Web video world. NBC.com inked a deal with Electric Farm Entertainment to carry the current Web series “Gemini Division” in part because the producers had booked actress Rosario Dawson in the lead. The producers of that show have now lined up actor Jon Heder for their next Web project, “Woke Up Dead.”
Joss Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” rocketed to success in part on the star power of Neil Patrick Harris. The comedy site FunnyorDie.com has flourished thanks to an uber-popular Will Ferrell viral video and other hits featuring celebrities including actor James Franco and Paris Hilton.
The rush to snag a star is intensifying, because a celebrity attachment can help a Web producer land a distribution deal and ad dollars. Forrester Research expects online video ad spending to hit $989 million this year, up from $471 million last year.
But stars don’t guarantee online views, said Brent Friedman, a partner in Electric Farm Entertainment and executive producer of the Web series “Gemini Division.”
“A known entity obviously provides some level of comfort to sponsors, but if the project is ultimately not successful, then the producer’s long-term relationship with the sponsor will be in jeopardy,” he said.
He suggests producers give careful consideration to whether the talent enhances or detracts from the creative goals and whether the star is the best person for the role.
Counting on Cameos
Cameo appearances are another device that can be effective, Mr. Carey said. Crackle is aiming to line up celebrity guest appearances in returning shows such as “Mr. Deity,” a comedy about how God runs the world with his assistant Jimbo.
“In ‘Mr. Deity’ we have created a very interesting framework and a set of characters that we can plug in in each episode, and that will help us further break through the noise,” Mr. Carey said.
An established actor in a Web show provides some confidence to advertisers about the quality of a show, said Michael Yanover, head of business development at Creative Artists Agency. But the Web video business is still democratic enough for “two guys in a garage” to make a breakout hit if the content is good enough, he said.
“Content will be created based on that which can be monetized, and there will be cool content that doesn’t come from Hollywood,” Mr. Yanover said.
The medium also will create its own stars, just as the cable business did with celebrities such as Jon Stewart, said Herb Scannell, the chairman of Web studio Next New Networks who previously was president of Nickelodeon. Rising Web-bred stars include actresses Jessica Rose of “LonelyGirl15” fame and Amber Lee Ettinger, also known as “Obama Girl,” Mr. Scannell pointed out.
“In the history of TV there has always been the debate: Are you making stars or using star vehicles?” Mr. Scannell said. “In the end, I think it’s good characters and good stories, and whether they come from people you know or don’t know, what trumps it all is the story.”
Even lesser-known actors can attract audiences. Stephanie Scott, the producer and star of Web series “The Retributioners,” said the show’s viewers noticed that actress Keri Setaro from a recent episode had previously starred in a Perdue Chicken commercial.
Cost Issues
While celebrity can increase interest in a property, most shows can’t afford the added cost of name-brand talent, said Tom Grams, a television consultant.
“Online video producers will have to find a way to accommodate the additional cost of using a celebrity into an already challenging business model,” Mr. Grams said. “My guess is that online video will continue to rely on relatively unknown talent for some time to come.”

8 Comments

  1. I would be interested to know if NPH and Will Ferrel worked on a percentage, if so thats the only way celebrities will help web.
    Still think we have yet to see a viable web to screen breakout to the mainstream.

  2. Interesting as always, Daisy.
    I agree with Herb.
    As a viewer, I don’t need celebrity to draw me to a show. I’m hooked on ‘Lost’ and ‘Dexter’, both shows I began watching with no knowledge of the cast. The same holds true online. I began watching ‘Jake and Amir’ and ‘Break a Leg’ because of recommendations from a trusted source, not because I was a fan of (or had even heard of) anyone in the cast.
    I don’t disagree that a celebrity can be a great promotional tool to get people in the door, but an audience cannot be sustained solely by who’s in the opening credits. (‘Gemini Division’, ‘Pauly Shore’s America’)
    For a scripted show to do well online, it needs to be compelling content that is distributed on the web by choice, not because the brass at TBS have stopped returning the producers’ calls. If it has a big name, great! If not, the producers are just going to have to work a little harder to get people to tune in. If it’s good, we’ll stick around, celebrity or not.

  3. Celebrities attract attention and significantly increase a site’s chance to gain popularity but they only get users to sample – from that point on the site must deliver a compelling story or service to maintain growth. Lately I have seen so many sites spike and plummet that I believe a quiet slowly rolling upward curve is the most desirable – it is the commitment of your users that will drive your site.

  4. I hate fashion,I dispise anything regarding it along with everyone involved with it; I despise the community, the hype, the stench and the style of it,Primarily, I don’t really like the millions of generally sentient men and women which are scammed into it

  5. Lindsay Lohan Is going to Treatment Today, She’s undoubtedly repeating this as a stunt to try to lessen her sentencing in October or else completely sidestep any jail time. This woman is so clear and predictable.

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