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International Market a Growing Opportunity for Web Series

Dec 21, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The Web series “Gemini Division” recently wrapped up its initial online run here in the United States, but it’s now rolling out in Australia online and on-air on the Sci Fi Channel there, one of many pending international premieres for the Rosario Dawson digital series.
The launch of “Gemini Division” in Australia is expected to be followed by rollouts in countries including the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany across a range of visual mediums: broadcast, cable, mobile phones and online portals.
Gemini Division
The international distribution strategy for “Gemini Division” underscores a growing opportunity for Web producers. Licensing a Web show to a foreign county is an additional revenue stream for ad-supported shows—and it’s often the one that helps them turn a profit.
“Gemini Division” producer Electric Farm Entertainment also inked international deals for last year’s Web show “AfterWorld” via a partnership with Sony Pictures Television International, which handles the foreign rights for Electric Farm’s programming.
The pursuit of foreign licensing for digital shows is the latest sign that Web producers need to mimic the best practices of Hollywood to make money. International sales are a staple of the television business and are entering the Web business as well. Web studios including Michael Eisner’s Vuguru, sites such as TheWB.com and networks including ABC have struck international deals for Web originals.
To protect the international rights, Web shows often “geo-block” users from other countries from watching a show when it debuts in the U.S.
As such, a tiered international rollout has drawbacks in the Internet age, in which fans expect a show to be available everywhere. That’s the tradeoff, but it’s a risk worth taking, said Brent Friedman, a partner in Electric Farm Entertainment. “We have weighed the pros and cons, and the pros clearly outweigh the cons. The major con is you will upset some fans that get exposed to the content and hear about it in blogs.”
But the revenue from both ads and international deals makes it possible to produce at a higher level and to attract stars such as Ms. Dawson and Jon Heder, who is fronting Electric Farm’s “Woke Up Dead,” slated for a 2009 release, he said.
“It allows us to make the best content possible,” Mr. Friedman said. “Most professional content in Hollywood gets a version in a bunch of different languages, so having Sony distribute to other territories and versions gives us greater reach and penetration.”
Electric Farm’s “AfterWorld” turned a profit in part because of the added international distribution. Likewise, “Gemini Division” will make money in part because of revenue from foreign rollouts, Mr. Friedman said.
One of the first Web studios to pursue international licensing is Mr. Eisner’s Vuguru. His company secured foreign rights deals for “Prom Queen,” “Sam Has 7 Friends,” “Foreign Body” and “Back on Topps” in countries including Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and Scandinavia.
Prom Queen
In some cases, the licensor reformats the show for the country. In Japan “Prom Queen” was renamed “PQ Tokyo” and recast with Japanese actors; it’s now running on Web, mobile, TV and DVD via a deal with Cyber Group Animation Entertainment.
Disney-ABC Television secured an international distribution deal for its original Web series “Squeegees” and “Voicemail” with Microsoft’s MSN in Europe in October. Warner Bros. International Television Distribution licensed TheWB.com’s original digital series “Sorority Forever” in a number of international territories via deals with Bebo in the U.K., MSN in Canada and in France on mobile and video-on-demand with media company Orange, among others.
But international windowing is not for everyone. When producer-actor Felicia Day partnered with Microsoft-Xbox last month to sponsor her Web show “The Guild,” the deal called for distribution in Xbox regions worldwide with the show subtitled in eight languages.
“The Internet is global. Why treat it like old media?” she asked. “If someone from France can click and read the text on your site, why lock them from the video?”

67 Comments

  1. Hi Daisy, again a great article and an important one for new web video creators to pay attention to.
    The only thing is, what sites should creators pay attention to internationally to secure distribution deals with? That is the only piece of information missing from this article.

  2. Daisy,
    As always great article. I had no idea about this. Thanks for enlightening me about it and I’m going to share this with my friends. Happy New Year.

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    Geoblocking Revisited: http://primetimeforchange.com/2009/01/geoblocking-revisited.html.

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