Producers of Web Series test release strategies. Digital TV, DVD, Itunes play an important role.

I guess Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment is about to launch its first Web Series. Check it out in this article from VideoBusiness.com.

Producers of Web series test release strategies
By Jennifer Netherby — Video Business, 6/12/2009

Next month at Comic-Con, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment will launch its first original Web series, Time Jumper, a graphic novel series produced with legend Stan Lee. But unlike many other original Web series, which up to now have been streamed with ads online, WDSHE will sell Time Jumper as a download on iTunes and in 2010 on DVD.

The studio is one of a number of companies testing new release strategies for original Web series that don’t rely on falling online advertising revenue as they try to make Web shows profitable.

Sony Pictures Television spent $1 million on its first Web series Angel of Death, which streamed in 5- to 8-minute segments with ads on Crackle.com before it debuts on TV and DVD in July as a 90-minute feature.

Sony Pictures TV head of digital networks Eric Berger told Bloomberg last month that the company plans to follow the strategy for other Web shows, including reality series MommyXXX, which follows adult film star Demi Delia and her kids, and comedy series All-Stars, debuting on Crackle this month.

Disney also plans to develop other web content on a case-by-case basis, Lori MacPherson, general manager of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment North America, said in an email.

“All short-form content we develop moving forward will take advantage of distribution platforms that are best suited for the stories we are telling and the audiences we are trying to reach,” she wrote.

Warner Home Video launched a series tied to the Terminator: Salvation theatrical release that re-uses graphics from the videogame spinoff and is being sold as a download through iTunes and Amazon Video on Demand.

Starz accidentally found online success with its Starz Bunnies show, an ongoing series of 30-second animated shorts that feature a bunny re-enacting movies. The ad-supported show airs online through Crackle and Netflix and on-demand on Starz. But licensing it in France and Germany “made it a very profitable game,” said Marc DeBevoise, head of Starz Digital Media.

Big Fantastic, producer of 2007 Web hit Prom Queen, has been in the business probably the longest and has tried every type of business model, but Chris Hampel, one of the four guys who run the company, said producers are still trying to figure out the best monetization model.

Big Fantastic made its first two series, Sam Has 7 Friends and Prom Queen, for $50,000 each. They got picked up for distribution by Michael Eisner’s Vuguru, which re-packaged Prom Queen and sold it to foreign markets, helping to finance a second season of the show. The show also got a DVD release, but Hampel said residuals are minimal.

In Japan, the series took off as a mobile series and has even been remade. In the U.S., Prom Queen plays on the Verizon Vcast network, but mobile hasn’t taken off, he said.

Their deal with Eisner has pushed budgets on their latest shows up to the $500,000 to $1 million range, though profits are still small, “nothing that would upgrade our cars and girlfriends,” Hampel said.

A number of producers that relied solely on ads to make money have shut down in the last year. 60Frames and ManiaTV closed, and just this week, Lonelygirl15 producer EQAL announced it would stop creating original Web shows. Disney folded Stage 9 into ABC.com and is now sticking to making Web content tied to TV shows.

Revision3 is the only company Video Business spoke with that said it is turning a profit relying on advertising alone. Its guy-geared non-fiction shows such as Diggnation stream on www.Revision3.com and YouTube or can be downloaded for free on iTunes or TiVo.

Most shows attract hundreds of thousands of fans and with it major advertisers, including Anheuser Busch, Coors and Microsoft.

“Fiction is expensive; it’s hard to do well,” Revision3 CEO Jim Louderback said of Revision3’s reality strategy. “You can never make your money back online.”

But you can develop an audience, which is why many bigger companies say they’re moving into the space.

Starz Digital Media is using the Web series as pilots for TV shows.

“There’s reduced risk in developing new content online versus the traditional model,” DeBevoise said.

Now Starz is developing a seven-part action series that could be turned into a TV series and looking to develop and acquire others.

Producers say to be successful online, shows need to involve the audience.

T180 Studios, acquired by the Walt Disney Co. last year, launched I <3 Vampires (I Heart Vampires) and other shows on its Take180 Web site and YouTube this spring, inviting participation from the 12- to 24-year-old audience the shows are geared toward.

In I <3 Vampires, a show that follows two fans of a popular vampire book series (think Twilight), the show’s main characters ask the audience for help and advice at the end of each episode. Fans respond in the comments section under the series’ YouTube page and at Take180 with comments and even videos. The next episode then builds the winning response into its story line, with a hat tip to the viewer on the Web page. For example, in one episode, one of the characters asks the audience what to do to win her friend back after a fight, and the winning audience member suggested blood cupcakes, which she gave her pal in the next episode.

The goal is “to create a deeper emotional connection with the audience because they feel they are a part of creating the show,” T180 general manager Chris Williams said.

Williams said in the future, T180 might re-release its shows on DVD or package them for foreign distribution. They also could serve as a launch pad for a movie, building an audience before a theatrical release.

Ultimately, many see Web originals debuting on TV, though in a future in which the Web and TV are joined together, creating a TV experience that combines the best of both—a lean back viewing experience and interactivity.

“The end game is homogenization coming between the Web and TV,” Hampel said. “What needs to happen is that marriage of the two mediums.”

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