Ex-TV execs and animators turn to the Web
April 6, 1999
by Lessley Anderson
(IDG) -- Traditional wisdom says that true Web entertainment won't take off until there is a dramatic improvement in bandwidth from high-speed networks.
But some Web creatives have decided not to wait that long.
Mainstream media execs like David Neuman, the former head of Disney Television and Touchstone Television, are beginning to design interactive video shows for the Web. Neuman's Digital Entertainment Network, founded in 1996, is currently developing bite-size shows set to launch on the Net in May. DEN is the latest in a rising wave of independent production companies who see the Web as a platform to entice buyers, either on the Web or in traditional broadcast media.
"We're designing these programs for the Web," says Neuman, who bailed on network TV after sitting on a panel with DEN cofounder Marc Collins-Rector. Each DEN show is filmed, edited and streamed to appeal to a demographic Neuman refers to as the "Net Generation." Offerings will include 30 niche-specific programs featuring punk rockers, Christian teens, skateboarders and everything in between.
For example, one show called Frat Rats features a fraternity-house narrative. Merchandizing opportunities include video links (click on this moving skateboard and buy it!) product placement and online stores.
But many of these shows will never appear on a TV near you.
"There's a presupposition that we start shows out on the Web and then migrate them to prime time or cable," says Neuman. "I'm completely uninterested in that. TV is about watering down what's really edgy and cool. The Web is the medium of choice for our target demographic."
While DEN represents one end of the indie spectrum, companies like Brilliant Digital Entertainment and Honkworm Interactive represent the other. Both feel the Web is information dense but entertainment poor, and they are creating short animations to spice it up.
"I don't know if it was the fact that the buzzword at the Jupiter conference was 'content' or what, but our phone has been ringing off the hook for the past two months," says Al Winsor, Honkworm Interactive's director of business development. Honkworm's Fish Bar cartoon, in which two slacker fish chat despondently about life, was popular enough in its own right (150,000 downloads in the month of March) to attract the attention of Excite, which hired the Seattle-based Honkworm to create a special version of Fish Bar to appear on Excite with advertising from Budweiser.
Distinguishing your site by licensing one-of-a-kind entertainment is something portals are beginning to explore, including Warner Bros. Online's soon-to-be-launched Entertaindom portal. WB has signed on Brilliant Digital Entertainment, which creates 3D animation, to deliver a series based on the Warner-owned Superman comic strip.
"Entertainment is reliant on exclusivity and cachet," says Warner Bros. Online executive VP Jim Banister. "And what people three years ago would have thought of as broadband entertainment is now possible in narrowband."
However, some Web-content producers still seem to have their eyes on the fat pipes of the future. New York-based American Interactive Media is working with TV veteran Herman Rush, former CEO of Coca-Cola Telecommunications and Columbia Pictures, to produce live streaming segments of stand-up comedy acts and skits on its ComedyNet site.
"We have a long-term goal of taking ComedyNet and migrating up to the various digital-bandwidth platforms," says AIM executive VP Bill Zaccheo.
Herman Rush has ideas of his own. In addition to developing nine new shows with AIM, his company Infotainment International is working on a dozen short, interactive video programs on topics such as weddings, pets and motherhood.
"We're on the cusp of a whole new industry here," says Rush. "I don't quite know how to say this, but when I look at the computer monitor, I see a TV monitor. It has to have entertainment on it, and so far there's been a void there."
Despite bandwidth limitations, consumers will seek out streaming content online if it's compelling enough. The release of the trailer for the new Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, is an indicator of consumers' hunger for great content. In the first 10 days the clip was available, it was downloaded over 5 million times.
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