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Friday, July 20, 2007

Original Content for the Web: The Big Questions

I had a conversation earlier this week with a very well-known TV writer who is working to develop a new video series for the Web. And I've gotten e-mails from a number of producers (and publicists) this month plugging new episodic projects.

I think we're seeing the emergence of professional content online that will challenge user-generated content -- something I started talking about late last year. This doesn't mean user-gen video is going to disappear, or that we won't see user-generated viral clips continue to circulate -- just that the professionals are now serious about trying to reach viewers, build long-term relationships, and make money on the Web.

Earlier this month, Brett Weinstein of UTA announced 60Frames Entertainment. You've also got Michael Eisner's Vuguru and Next New Networks, founded by Herb Scannell of MTV. Plus:

- Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman just launched an "urban western" called "The West Side."

- Nerve Video has a sexy new series called "Tight Shots."

- AmericaFree.TV is doing a series called "Custody."

- Nickelodeon debuts its first original Web series, "Nick Cannon's Star Camp," on July 22nd at www.turbonick.com. There are five 15-minute episodes, culminating in a televised finale on August 26th.

Some of the big questions that haven't yet been answered:

- How much advertising will viewers tolerate? How "interruptive" will it be (IE, will it be small logos in the corner of the frame, or 15-second commercials that run before, during, and after the video)?

- How much can you spend on production and still expect to earn a profit? Will a new aesthetic emerge?

- We know that good writing will be important. But how important will recognizable stars be?

- How will creators make their stuff "appointment viewing"? It's one thing to get a viewer to subscribe to a stream of videos by e-mail, or some form of RSS, but actually keeping them engaged and getting them to watch is a tougher challenge.

If you compared the development of professional Web video to television, we'd still be pre-Uncle Miltie.

Some history:

In 1948, NBC moved Milton Berle's "Texaco Star Theater" from radio to television. By 1949, Berle had become television's first big-name star, and was credited with causing the sale of television sets to double that year.

While there have been lots of original shows created for the Web, we don't yet know who the Texacos will be (the sponsors for this new kind of content) or the Uncle Milties. I don't think we've hit an inflection point yet for professional video content online.

But it could be close.

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