Monthly Archives: June 2008

iconmobile and Waterfall Mobile announce partnership

Leading mobile advertising/marketing company iconmobile announced a strategic partnership with Waterfall Mobile, whose Msgme patent-pending technology platform has been deployed by numerous Fortune 500 companies nationwide to manage mobile initiatives. Msgme enables customers to create customized mobile channels and combine direct-to-consumer relationships with traditional and online marketing campaigns.

“If a client wants to launch a campaign in 30 minutes or requires a custom short code for a detailed custom campaign spanning multiple countries, Waterfall Mobile’s Msgme campaign management tools allow us to provide powerful turn-key mobile messaging solutions to enhance their brand,” said iconmobile CEO Thomas Felger. “

Iconmobile first used the Waterfall Mobile’s Msgme platform for its February 2008 campaign to power mobile messaging for Microsoft’s Windows Live Mobile launch with their Zune A Day Giveaway campaign.

Iconmobile also used Waterfall Mobile’s Msgme to showcase the new BMW X6, as part of a multi-platform campaign. The Msgme platform enabled mobile messaging and a mobile internet site, whereby subscribers could view and get information on the Sports Activity Coupe BMW X6 via their mobile device.

The iconmobile group delivers location-based branded content to the mobile Internet. In March 2007 British communications conglomerate WPP Group PLC acquired a 40 percent stake in the company, which is headquartered in Berlin with offices in Los Angeles, London, Sydney and Tokyo.

Waterfall Mobile’s platform powers Msgme for mobile marketing and AlertU for emergency communications. Founded in 2005, the company is backed by Vista Equity Partners, a global technology investment fund.

Leave a comment

Filed under Advertising/Marketing

Drunk Girls in Bikinis and Why Indie Filmmakers Will Define New Media

The name James Gunn might not ring a bell–unless you are a fan of indie (and outrageous) film meister Lloyd Kaufman‘s ouevre (and if you’re not, I heartily recommend introducing yourself to his movies). In 1996, writer/director Gunn got his start writing the script for “Tromeo and Juliet,” (for $150, he says). Since then, Gunn has written movies such as “Scooby Do,” “Dawn of the Dead,” and “Slither” among other movies.

And now, he’s turned his talents to new media. Gunn was the keynoter at a gathering of IFTA (Independent Film & Television Alliance), talking up the opportunities in new media to a crowd that was interested but, as of yet, uninvolved (six people admitted to watching any kind of program online).

Gunn had a strong message, couched in a humorous bonbon, for IFTA attendees about the necessity for embracing new media. They’re words worth repeating….and emailing to any traditional media person dismissive of or reluctant to engage in new media, be it Internet or mobile platforms. The following is a nearly verbatim version of what Gunn had to say, minus his great delivery:

“Traditional media people look in horror at new media, like I’m holding up a cheese grater in front of their infants. But when people created television, they didn’t know what it was. They had to invent it as it went along. Pioneers like Milton Berle and Ernie Kovacs…the experimentation was to find out what worked and didn’t. Out of that came the soap opera, the variety show, the sitcom.

What we’re doing now is learning the language of a new format. Now, kids watch video on YouTube every day. We’re on the precipice of a new world, and we have the chance to create a new world from the ground up, creatively and as a business.

I feel like Milton Berle without the big penis. (Here Gunn riffed on how Berle would show his large penis to whoever would look.) I’m very happy to be here today at the IFTA. For a short window of time, independent producers have an extraordinary advantage over studios in creating content for the web, mobile and gaming platforms.

The studios can’t compete. Creators of content and distributors are not the same, for [new media]. The primary distribution outlets for new media – Microsoft, Google, Apple – are not in the content creation business–and that’s why God made us. The divisions have inherited the structure of the studios, which is great for making summer blockbuster movies. But, for new media content, that structure destroys everything it takes to be successful in new media. People are looking for an edge. A drunk girl in a bikini would be a great premise for new media. The first thing Warner Bros. would do is say, “we have close ties with Budweiser and they’re uncomfortable with public drunkenness, so stay away from the drunkeness bit. And we have shareholders in the Christian Right and they’re uncomfortable with the bikini. So make it a sweatsuit, and since we have a relationship with Juicy Couture, that’s perfect. And we also have a relationship with Tom Arnold and he’d be perfect for the lead.” So before you know it that’s what you’ve got: Tom Arnold in a sweat suit.

You think I’m making this up, but no. In “Scooby Doo,” people were offended by Sarah Michelle Geller’s cleavage and we had to CG it out. Independent producers have learned how to make things on a budget, so studios are at a disadvantage here too. I can put up an ad for CGI artists wanted for free, and by the end of the day, I’ll get hundreds of resumes from kids wanting an opportunity. Studios don’t know how to find these people or how to use them creatively and respectively.

When it comes to feature films, independent producers compete with difficulty. Stars are unaffordable and difficult to get. The Internet has its own star system that’s not being taken full advantage of by the studios. You won’t get George Clooney for a spot in your web series, but you might get Kim Kardashian and she means a lot more in this web world. One warning: do not hire this kid who cried about Britney Spears – I’ll hate you forever. Everyone has to have a line.

The final advantage that independent producers have over the studios is flexibility. We can move quickly, and, at the studios, the ideas have to pass through so many offices. They’re greenlighting the new Foster Brooks series over there. (I’ve been dying to make a joke about Foster Brooks) Seriously, Disney.com in Jan. 2007 did a complete revamp of their website for $70 million. Now they’re doing a complete revamp again. There are too many cooks in the kitchen there, they can’t do it feasibly.

The thing I’ve been blessed with is I’m fascinated with new media. I’m addicted to Facebook and MySpace and Twitter, aside from meeting girls to have sex with. I love to blog. I get recognized more from my MySpace page than the movies I’ve done. I can check in with then on a daily basis and see what they want.

Are you horrified with the idea of new media? There are thousands of people out there excited by this world, looking for people to partner with, to find their own potential. That’s been one of the things I’ve loved the most about this format. It’s inexpensive and small. I can find young kids with potential and give them the chance to have their work seen. I don’t really care very much about traditional filmmaking anymore. It’s boring to me. I hope there’s no one from Universal here, to whom I pitched an idea.

To finish up, I used to wonder about the future of entertainment. Today, I wonder what am I going to create here? What’s the language of this new entertainment form? Together, we are forming the future of entertainment. It’s really unwritten, and it’s what we want it to be. A few months ago, I was going through a crisis in my career. I was involved in this new stuff that was a lot more interesting to me than these films. I had to go deep in my heart to see what I care about the most. I prayed to God: What am I supposed to put in this empty space? In that moment, I heard the words of God inside me, five clear words: Drunk Girl in a Bikini.

2 Comments

Filed under Content, Monetizing Mobile

All-for-Nots: Live on Jimmy Kimmel Show

Quarterlife” proved that turning Internet success into TV gold is anything but a slam dunk.

But sometimes it happens organically. Although we don’t know yet if the results will be gold or dross, the fake indie band the All-for-Nots, from the Internet series of the same name, will appear on your local ABC affiliate on Wednesday, June 25 on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

Brought to you by Tornante, the same company that produced “Prom Queen,” The “All-for-Nots” is a scripted comedy that follows the path of an indie band. Like other TV shows over the decades, the fake band has become quasi-real. Although the band was formed for the Internet series, its members have written their own music and play it live.

“What is really real or fake for this sort of thing anyway?” asks Tornante’s Jane Hu. “We definitely aren’t in the business of tricking people. They are a band, they are playing their own music. How are they any different from the Pussycat Dolls or any other band that’s produced?”

Indeed. Jimmy Kimmel, who has cultivated his own Internet presence and is watched by the demographic that’s online more than on-air, both reaffirms his cyber savvy and stamps a seal of approval for having the band on the show. Tornante gets airplay for an online property, never a bad thing. Will the existing “All-for-Nots” fans show up? Will “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” appearance build the fan base? Are the metrics in place for quantifying either of these numbers?

“It’s always been a dream of mine to get them on a late night talk-show,” says Hu. “The way the storyline plays out, they’re traveling around the country because they got a letter saying they are invited to play on Letterman. I won’t give away what happens, but the whole idea of them actually playing on a late night talk show is perfect.”

Hu adds that it’s always been about getting the “All-for-Nots” on multiple platforms. It’s already available on 12 online sites (with more to come) and on mobile via Verizon’s VCAST service. “This is the first step, obviously,” Hu says. “It’s a fake band born out of an Internet show but what if it became a real band? Our philosophy is to get the content out wherever people are watching.”

How important is it for an Internet series to “make it” to TV? Although a TV appearance may confer some validation of any Internet series’ intrinsic entertainment value, I think that validation only rings true to people who come out of television and imagine platforms are a linear hierarchy (movies at the top, mobile at the bottom). That view is not held by the legions of people who have abandoned TV altogether or watch it while they’re online and texting. For them, and for increasingly more people, TV is less about TV as a medium and more about it as one platform among many.

1 Comment

Filed under Content

You Suck at Photoshop Returns: Creators Talk about Interactive Storytelling

First, if you are one of the three people on the planet who hasn’t seen “You Suck at Photoshop,” go straight to My Damn Channel and check out the travails of Donnie Hoyle (and perhaps pick up a few tips on Photoshop while you’re at it).

YSAP’s co-creators Matt Bledsoe and Troy Hitch, who make up Big Fat Brain, came out of the TV commercial world, which may say something about the short-form, high-concept chops needed to pull off online comedy. As has been reported by Time magazine, the two put out the first episode of YSAP as a one-off, and, after getting thousands of hits, decided maybe they were onto something.

The good news is, yes, Donnie is almost back. June 27 will unveil the first episode of YSAP’s Season 2 and perhaps reveal some of the mysteries of Donnie’s disappearance.

Mobilized TV spoke with Matt and Troy about the new model for interactive storytelling, why “quarterlife” bombed and if there’s a mobile future for Donnie.

How much did your background in advertising lend to the success of YSAP?

MATT: We did use a lot of our talents from the advertising world–how to get a message across and communicate. Troy has a theater background so he was able to marshall a lot of his theater skills into bringing that character to life as well as his Photoshop skills.

TROY: Matt has a history of screenwriting and film school. So we have a good amalgam of experience and talent. It was a lot of sweat and a little bit of luck to make it work.

What happened once it evolved from a one-off into a series?

MATT: The one thing we learned is that there’s a big difference between “TV on the Web” and a real Web 2.0 experience. Once we found out we had an audience, we decided that we should take them on a little different ride. Rather than having them passively wait for each episode, we started building in experiences that happened outside the actual content.

For example, Donnie Hoyle decided he wanted to auction his wedding ring. We actually posted it on an eBay auction and 50,000 people came in four hours. Maybe 70 or 80 people actually bid on it and got it up to $750 – and it was a $5 ring from the pawnshop. In eBay, there’s an opportunity for the buyers to ask the sellers questions about the product. We had hundreds of people ask funny questions about the series and the character. They were asking things like, If this ring comes with infinite sorrows, what happens if I buy it and my sorrows are not infinite? The answers were just as funny as the question. We were ripping them out 15 and 20 an hour. And people were cutting and posting the questions/answers and putting them on blogs. Within 24 hours, there were over 10,000 mentions of the Q&As on blogs and on various news sites.

TROY: What we decided was that this was the real opportunity. We had the audience, but what did we do with them once we had them? We took them on a ride. Out of the 10 episodes, we had four or five different off-content experiences that ranged from Facebook pages to a real corporate website for the fictional characters to work at during the day.

What we discovered is the idea of distributed storytelling. The content is only the beginning of the story. If we’re touching the audience as deeply as we think we can, they become willing to participate in the story and it becomes something wholly different than watching TV.

It sounds like you’re talking about interactive TV in a very different way than simply choosing between different paths for a story.

MATT: This is why the establishment is having trouble with interactive TV. Your property can’t be too precious. You have to be willing to abandon ownership of the characters and stories to the audience. Web viewers want to call the shots, to control the experience. If you put too strong of a harness over your characters or stories, they’ll walk away. We had to learn the delicate balance of playing along with the audience and keeping the integrity of the story so we can mix in new characters. But you have to be willing to let the audience take the reins. We can do that because we don’t have high-level executives looking over our shoulders. And it can have unexpected consequences.

What are some of the most memorably good–and bad–consequences of letting the audience take the reins?

TROY: I guess from a good side, the eBay auction was the one that told us there’s something good in this if we take a chance and don’t know what the outcome will be. We actually haven’t had any bad consequences. On “Snatchbuckler’s Second Chance,” which we saw a spin-off with its own storyline, we have had so many YSAP fans storm the castle demanding Donnie’s return that we became more flexible on the storyline and re-introduced Donnie through this other series.

MATT: We had the ten-episode breakdown for Snatchbuckler’s Second Chance that we threw out the window when we realized the fans were taking us on a ride. It hasn’t ended our own vision of what “Snatchbuckler” can be, but we’ve taken a detour to tell other stories–and we’ve built up a strong audience. More good can come from this than bad when handing over the keys to the kingdom.

What else has YSAP’s audience taught you?

MATT: Since we’ve been along for the whole ride, we see how people become a community around a property. Usually web videos are skateboarding accidents or sleeping kittens. When you create a community with loads of characters, community forms. Some people really think Donnie Hoyle is a real guy. There are people who are new to the YSAP series, and they don’t realize this is a put-on. They think that it’s actually a Photoshop tutorial that went horribly wrong. You’ve got another group of people totally in on the joke and know Troy and I are behind it and Donnie is a construct of our imagination but they suspend their disbelief and play with those people who think it’s real and educate them about what it’s about.

There’s a viral community, and Troy and I can’t help but listen because they’ve invested so much of their time and interest into the series–almost as much as we have. We want to keep it going for them. We scour the web to find all their comments. We do that on a daily basis to keep up with the pulse of Donnie-dom out there.

Like all things, we’ve got an idea for the vision of where the second season of YSAP will go. But again, our relationship with the fans of YSAP and Snatchbuckler will determine that later on. We’re not sure where it’ll go. That’s what makes it so watchable for people. The prevailing wind of the community becomes a forceful element in the storyline and the episodes.

TROY: You can see where we’ve taken specific fan comments and worked them into the next episode because we think it’s a great way to dialogue with people. We want to give shout-outs to our fans: Hey, we listened to you and took it in this direction because you thought it would be fun.

Can you give me an example of that?

TROY: Many many people thought Dane Cook was behind YSAP, so in the second episode, Donnie filled up his folder with pictures of Dane Cook and labeled them things like ‘douche’. We didn’t say we were or weren’t Dane Cook, but we reflected that we heard peoples’ talk. We’re not an anonymous entity churning content out. We fanned the flames so thousands of fans are still certain that Dane Cook is behind it. Which pleases us to no end.

Can T-Shirts and mugs be far behind?

MATT: With lots of [content], people will think, Well, how can we monetize it? If this were a Saturday morning cartoon series, we’d get the merchandise pumped out. If and when we decide to do this, it’ll have to be just as participatory and interactive from a marketing standpoint [as it has been from a storytelling standpoint]. We wouldn’t force a T-shirt down anybody’s throat. We may be able to put together a fan site where people can design their own stuff and fans can help decide what to make.

TROY: Now, [merchandising] is an unnatural extension of what we’ve done. It seems like a drop-kick to try to take advantage of it now. We made the decision not to do the merchandise, to not do interviews as Donnie Hoyle. Often, we decline to talk about him at all. The mystery of him was what drove it. There’s magic behind Donnie and we don’t want to cash out on that for a couple of months of T-shirt sales.

Will we see a mobile component to YSAP?

MATT: That’s a great question. One thing is a little out of our reach now as far as what we control with regard to distribution. We have partnerships with My Damn Channel who have their own ways of distributing content.

TROY: We know mobile is a very viable medium out there. Technically, however, YSAP might be difficult to transition to mobile because there are so many details to the visual elements. That might be sort of challenging but we’re game for bringing our sensibility and comedy to mobile devices.

I understand you’re already using Skype as an element.

MATT: Yes, Donnie and Snatchbuckler both have Skype accounts. People skype these guys. Troy is the voice of Donnie and I’m Snatchbuckler. People have this incredible epiphany when they call the Skype accounts and actually get us. They find a clue and see what it’ll yield. They’re playing a game and then have a one-on-one conversation with a character in the show. The calls are from people all over the world. We get about a dozen a day, and they laugh their heads off when they have a conversation with me in character.

Aren’t you worried that thousands of viewers will call?

TROY: We don’t have to talk to all 10 million viewers to get the message across. They’ll tell anybody and everybody that they spoke with Snatchbuckler, which grows the viewership and keeps this ripping through the viral world.

What ways are you innovating interactive entertainment with “Snatchbuckler’s Second Chance”?

MATT: The premise is that Snatchbuckler goes to an online rehab center [called Peopleburg] for people recovering from online game addiction – but it’s actually an online game itself, so that’s the great irony. We didn’t just use the Second Life machinima engine, we created our own game to make Peopleburg be that much more real. Our intention–and it’s worked–is to make people think that Peopleburg is a real place.

TROY: Doing an extension of Snatchbuckler to mobile medium is a natural next step. We’d love to see how it plays out on mobile devices. So we’d open the doors to Peopleburg and people can come and have a real-time immersive-content collaboration experience, allowing people to walk around the set of the show being produced.

MATT: Suppose you could enter the world where we’re filming the content and you could kick around and run into the characters and maybe even get cast into the series?

When will this happen?

MATT: To be determined. This first season is a seasonette, moving back into second season of YSAP. Snatchbuckler will be on a short hiatuas.

Did you learn anything from the failure of “quarterlife”?

TROY: We earned a lot from “quarterlife.” There was so much buzz and hype about it because it was a series on the web transitioning to TV. To me, that seems totally non-intuitive. All the things we do in the Web 2.0 universe to make this content participatory–if we stripped this away and turned it into a 22-minute episode, it would lose all of that. There’s a certain ability to be able to watch a piece of content and then go and experience all these other things, and it has to happen in a web environment on your own time. We wouldn’t ever want this to get outside of the web. Then all the fun goes away.

Does that mean that TV is dead?

MATT: I don’t know. People have been talking about it for a long time. I just don’t watch it anymore so I can’t answer that question. TV isn’t even on the radar and doesn’t make any sense for what we’re trying to do.

TROY: As long as “Deal or No Deal” is on, I think TV has a shot.

1 Comment

Filed under Advertising/Marketing, Content

Millennials and Mobile: Generation Closes the Gap

Morley Winograd is the executive director of the Institute for Communication Technology Management (CTM) at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. According to its website, CTM is a bridge between USC’s business school and the real world of the “networked digital industry.”

And he’s got an academic thing for the millennial generation–those born between 1982 and 2003–who comprise the largest generation in U.S. history (take that, baby boomers!). With their sheer numbers and tech-savvy, this generation will change-up the game as we know it, says Winograd.

And he’s got the proof. CTM does an annual study of consumers of mobile services, in 12 markets around the world. The same questions are asked, which enables the researchers to tease out cultural differences. For example: “The future of mobile entertainment does seem to be different based on where people live and the access they have to this content,” Winograd said. “In many of the Asian countries, most distinctively in Korea and Japan, the mobile device is looked of as a personal device, much like Americans see laptops as a source of information and entertainment.”

Americans tend to think of the mobile phone as a work device, said Winograd, which makes mobile entertainment is a bit of taboo. “Obviously among younger peoeple, because of their greater knowledge of technology and not being in the workforce, there is a greater acceptance of mobile entertainment–but a lack of money to pay for it,” he added.

But here’s where the Millennials come in: they’re the game-changers for mobile entertainment, says Winograd. “As the millennial generation matures and gains in earning power, you’ll have a natural growth of the market,” he said. Other factors that will help grow mobile entertainment, said Winograd, are the shift from a transaction and subscription model to one that’s advertising based and more free. And, an opening up of the networks for a variety of entertainment and applications so the market can tune itself more finely to the needs of users. Winograd is referring both to an an off-deck model or carriers that create a more open market. “That trend is unstoppable,” he said. “When you have that kind of third party opportunities, you’ll see greater interest in creating entertainment. The developers will have a greater chance to test ideas.”

Social networking plays a big role in the evolution of mobile entertainment, says Winograd. “I think the next step in the evolution of this field will be the integration of social networks and mobility,” he said. “Right now, a great deal of American’s access to social networking is done off of laptops. But the people most into social networks–the Millennial generation–are more into mobile devices for accessing broadband. That’s seen in the iPhone, which is more of an Internet access device then an actual phone for this generation.”

“The real breakthrough point comes when social networks are readily used and accessed through the phones,” he said. “Mobile Tribe and a few others have solved that problem but I haven’t seen widespread adoption by the carriers of the interaction into social networks. That’s not the first interface you find when you turn on your phone, although that is not to say it won’t be in the future. Even Yahoo has announced its attempt at integrating the different applications that might be integrated into a single interface.”

Apple’s iPhone is pushing competitors to offer the touchscreen, which WInograd thinks will quickly become commonplace. But, as we wait for the Millennials to grow up, mobile entertainment still faces some more prosaic hurdles. “There are other problems–pricing, customization, adoption for mobile environments–that mobile entertainment has to address, as well as access through social networking portals.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Advertising/Marketing, Devices

ManiaTV’s Move to Mobile

If you haven’t gotten quite enough of Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Dave Navarro in your life, now you can bring him with you wherever you go…on your cell phone.

Online TV network ManiaTV just announced it’s going mobile, with content from all its franchised shows, which includes Comedy-on-Demand (hosted by the National Lampoon Lemmings) and Navarro’s Spread TV. Since all these shows include shorter-form segments, said ManiaTV CEO Peter Hoskins, those are the segments that will make up Phase One of Mania’s move to mobile. The mobile service is powered by Transpera, which allows users to access online video content from any video-enabled phone, via mobile browser at http:/maniatv.com.

Phase Two will be made-for-mobile content, written, shot and produced for the cell phone screen. Hoskins revealed that the company is in the process of testing different formats that will create an interactive component by utilizing some of the interactive functionality provided by platform partner Transpera. Those include Send-to-Friend, which allows a user to send the mobile video to a friend, automatically optimized for that friend’s handset, and Send-to-Mobile, which allows a user to pick a video on a website and send it to his/her handset by inputting the phone number (pretty cool, it must be said). Those functions will launch next quarter, said Transpera CEO Frank Barbieri.

Transpera deliver video via the mobile web, and Barbieri has plenty to say about the efficacy of this delivery method. “We’re seeing users are treating the web on their phone just like they do on their computers,” he said. “And we make those sites work.” Proof of the pudding: Transpera also powers video on break.com, CBS News, Associated Press’ mobile offering (see MobilizedTV.com article on AP’s mobile site).

The challenge now is to take those creative functionalities for the mobile device and marry it convincingly with content. Hoskins told MobilizedTV that they’re experimenting with such interactive formats as contests, voting, and the ability to choose a storyline. Social networking, of course, also plays a role, and Hoskins praises Transpera’s “progressive” offering that includes Twitter integration and bookmarking. “We’re working with Transpera to co-develop that platform which is supportive of the kind of content that’s right for the mobile space,” said Hoskins.

“The big message, which we’ve made first online, is that we made content for the internet, not formulaic sitcom on the internet,” he continued. “It’s important to do the same thing on mobile.”

Regarding synergies between online and mobile content, Hoskins pointed out that the fragmentation of audiences means that “the way to aggregate audience is very different.” “We program for the various platforms, and storylines will interlate between one platform and another and alternate storylines on each platform,” he said. “All that is to expand — not cannibalize — the entertainment opportunity and grow the aggregate audience.”

How will that play out on mobile? Wait and see, say Hoskins and Barbieri. “The nice thing about working with an online video innovator like ManiaTV is that we have a lot of fun conversations about how to integrate mobile into their programming,” said Barbieri.

Leave a comment

Filed under Content

Marshall Herskovitz on the broadband biz post-quarterlife: Confused But Still Fighting

Marshall Herskovitz detailed the history of creating “quarterlife,” including the relationship with MySpace. “We had 13 members, so we were a threat to them,” joked Herskovitz. “But they didn’t want to be in a position of promoting another social network…but it worked out.” NBC’s Ben Silverman had seen the pilot and liked it and said he wanted to put it on the network, “which for us was a dream come true.” “Here we were back on television–on our terms,” he said. “And our production is paid for. It was a wonderful deal all the way around.”

To make many months into a short story, he said, “we were the third most successful scripted series in MySpace’s history.” “We got 48 hours of promotion on YouTube, which gave us thousands of views,” Herskovitz continued. “NBC did a pretty good job of promoting it.. There were one thousand articles written about it in periodicals around the country. We hit every base we knew how to hit. But as the NBC premiere loomed, I had the sick feeling that we weren’t going to develop the audience–7 to 8 million people–that NBC would need to make it work. I thought 3 to 4 million people would watch it.”

When it premiered, he was sitting in a hotel room in New York with some of the “quarterlife” cast. “I knew what it looked like on a television,” he said. “But watching this knowing it was being broadcast by NBC put me in a different mindcast. This was a TV show being broadcast all across America. I turned to the cast and said, This is a disaster. No one is watching. This doesn’t feel like a TV show.” Herskovitz said his predictions about the number of viewers was correct, but he didn’t predict that NBC would throw them off the air after one episode. “One minute we were the bright young man, and the next minute we were old news,” he said. “It was the fastest fall I’ve ever gone through in this business, and I’ve been through a few.”

What he did was rethink the business plan, and tried to think what he could do with the show. “We had to accelerate the next part of the business plan, which was to create more content,” he said. “We put into development five new series and are figuring out what to do with the show. If we can only do it on the Internet, I’ll have to rewrite the contracts. Or we can find a new TV partner.” The social networking aspect has worked well. “We’re hopeful this experiment will work well, in some form,” he said. “Since we’re all friends here, I’ll share with you where I am. Where I am is really confused. When I talk to people, they’re really confused too. A lot of people talk with great certainty of what they’re doing, but they’re confused to. How do you make enough money to stay in business? There aren’t a lot of good answers.”

Disturbing trends, said Herskovitz, is that “virus” is a good word because in life the viruses that attack our bodies do so in different ways and move at different rates. Some viruses mow people down in two days, others hide in the body for years. “If you do a series about peoples’ inner emotions, that virus spreads more slowly than Will Farrell talking to a baby,” he said, referring to “The Landlord.” “This idea of gaming the viral process gets harder and harder.”

“There are a lot more people trying to get a lot more content in front of people,” he said. “It’s getting harder to be seen.”

He also described how ratings were incredibly high and positive with the first episode on YouTube, which garnered 800,000 views. “If you look under the fold, you’ll see episodes 2, 3, 4 and so on,” he said. “But only 23,000 people made that journey to the second episode. The extent to which people didn’t give a shit about what they were watching — and for something they liked — was disturbing. There’s been a learning curve for those of us from traditional media. Will there ever be a thing like appointment Internet the way there is appointment TV?”

He also expressed the difficulty of promoting in a consistent way on YouTube. Also frustrating: “There’s nothing I did [in my traditional media career] without a $10 to $30 million marketing budget,” he said. “I don’t know if anyone has tried a $15 million budget for marketing. Maybe it would work. Maybe the Internet is like everything else. But here’s the problem — none of you have that kind of money to spend. And I’m not sure that’s the direction we want to go with the Internet. I’m moving forward with creating content. Michael Eisner claims he’s making money. Alot of people who care about me are asking me why I’m doing it if I can’t make money. Where’s the home run?”

“For me, the answer is a little bit embarrassing,” he continued. “The reason I’m doing it is because I love it. I got very excited about it in the beginning. I came to feel we were offering something not being offered by anybody else. I felt we were creating a social network for creative, emotional people to reveal their authentic selves, a more intimate landscape that gave people a more intimate way of connecting than Facebook. And it’s been astonishing to me how it’s grown. I think I am providing something for people they didn’t have in their lives before. And that means a great deal for me.

“This is an emerging business and every month it changes,” he concluded. “And one day it will make money. There are a lot of things I’d like to see explored that haven’t been explored. I have yet to find anyone who can prove that a subscription model doesn’t work. That might be false.”

“What I’m trying to understand is promotional partnerships,” he said. “Where two websites can partner with each other and not mind if people go to both. That’s a new and amazing idea that’s grown up organically on the web. This whole idea of syndication of content which means that thousands and thousands of sites pay you almost nothing, so you earn a little more than nothing. The whole idea of how you manage relationships with advertisers. I have a great fear we’re going back to the 1950s, where Colgate Palmolive [sponsored shows]. It’s becoming pretty bald what they want to do, and they’re gaining more and more control, which I think is bad for us.”

“The last thing I’m confused about is the relationship we all should have to the giant companies that dominate the media landscape. It’s interesting that the Big Six have been ham-handed so far in their forays into digital media…and that’s been good for us. They’re not entrepreneurial and don’t really understand this. The new behemoths, the Googles and folks like them, are quite smart at this and are exerting as much control as the big media companies, which are getting smarter. It’s now harder than a year ago. The idea that a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it will increase when these big companies aggregate. It’s already true and it’s going to become more true. I believe the Internet is a remarkable moment in human history where information can be democratized, coming at a moment when information has become commoditized by corporations who make money from it. There is this amazing moment, and I feel some responsibility to find a way to keep the Internet at least somewhat at a level playing field, where you have a chance to do something on your own. Fifteen years ago, there were 40 independent TV production companies. There aren’t any now,.”

He also revealed that the Producers Guild of America (of which he is president) is talking about a new alliance of producers for digital content as a way for protecting ourselves, to protect independents within it, to go up against the big companies that have the size to dominate. “I’m still fighting,” he said.

5 Comments

Filed under Advertising/Marketing, Content