Web series aren’t just a guy/gal with a camera, a couch and a vlog talk show anymore, and audiences and advertisers are taking notice. With brands like Ford, Ikea, Target, Yahoo and Intel spending millions annually creating original web entertainment on top of YouTube’s own premium content buys from Hollywood and networks like Machinima, demand for compelling, original entertainment is rising rapidly, and content creators are rising to the occasion.
This week, ZoomTilt debuts three new made-for-web TV comedy pilots: “The Pickup Chicks”, “Spycology”, and “Cool Justice”. Although the three comedies are starkly different shows – with backdrops ranging from Brooklyn bars to a top-secret Spy Academy to a 1970’s L.A. drug bust – they all have several qualities in common: memorable, unique characters, top-quality professional cinematography and studio-caliber story arc development. Following on the tradition established by recent web series standouts like “The Beauty Inside,” Warner Premiere’s “H+: The Digital Series” and “Dating Rules for My Future Self,” ZoomTilt’s first three shows coming out of the TV Reset Project webseries competition demonstrate that creative, compelling storytelling and community-building trumps big budgets in generating earned media and audience engagement.
The first new ZoomTilt pilot is romantic comedy “The Pickup Chicks” by Stacie Capone, which follows a trio of Brooklyn roomates-turned-entrepreneurs dealing with the unexpected success of their dating service for hopeless single guys:
The second show is “Cool Justice” by Todd Rulapaugh and Brian Groh, who play two larger-than-life 1970’s cops transported to modern day Los Angeles to help a beautiful heiress recover her missing inheritance:
The third show is “Spycology” by Tenth Gate Productions, where slacker spy Jack gets jolted by the threat of expulsion from Spy College and the arrival of an enigmatic new female transfer student. Can Jack harness his inner Bond before time runs out on his diploma hopes or his best buddy Tim’s hostage situation?
As both production equipment and video hosting costs continue to drop, knowledge transfer of production and editing expertise is accelerated through lightning fast internet data transfer and digital video demand continues to grow rapidly, traditional TV and “digital TV” will continue to converge and overlap, creating exciting new opportunities and avenues for content creators, advertisers, audiences and digital networks alike.
Year after year, independent film is spurred forward by the vision, hope and hard work of thousands of creative artists. And, unlike the music and publishing industries, where indie content creators have embraced digital distribution avenues like iTunes, Amazon, BandCamp and SoundCloud, non-digital discovery still reigns supreme in the festival-centric world of independent film. Or does it?
A revolution (or, dare we say, web-olution) is steadily building momentum, one with the potential to spread financial sustainability to a much larger population of indie video and TV creators. The internet, long the domain of social networking, file-sharing and cute animal videos, is increasingly providing structured opportunities for filmmakers, screenwriters, actors/actresses and other content producers to capture legitimate money and exposure for their talents, particularly with shorts and made-for-web series.
One reason more aspiring filmmakers are focusing their energies on the web are the current economics of indie filmmaking. Although the motion picture industry is a $10 billion annual market, nine out of every ten of those dollars goes to Hollywood, leaving about $1 billion for the indies. Although this seems pretty positive on the surface, the reality is that typically 20-25% of that $1 billion yearly opportunity goes to projects like “Black Swan” and “Little Miss Sunshine” – perfectly legitimate indie films, but ones backed by big-name stars and multi-million dollar marketing budgets. Take what’s left over and if you divide that $800,000 by the number of submissions received by only Sundance, Tribeca and the Nashville, New York and Seattle film festivals, it amounts to less than $25,000 per film. In fact, statistically, the odds of an indie filmmaker breaking even on a feature investment through conventional distribution channels is roughly 0.1%. Despite the prestige a film festival short-listing can bring, it’s hard to like those odds no matter how visionary your work is.
Plus, if you compare 1.3 billion annual box office movie ticket sales against 10 billion yearly, unique YouTube views and 30 million Netflix subscribers, the web starts looking like an appealing Plan B – particularly when distribution barriers to entry are so much lower. Not only that, but while traditional TV viewing has flat-lined, watching digital entertainment through smart TV’s, video game consoles, computers, tablets and mobile phones is currently seeing circa-50% year-over-year growth rates.
So why hasn’t the vaunted Web-olution come even further? In part, it’s because old habits die hard. A second factor is the fact that the financial landscape for indie entertainment creators is still highly immature. If you’ve got a viral hit show or short on your hands, you might be able to cover your production budget solely on ad placements over your work. However, for most film professionals looking to transition into web shorts, it takes time and effort to build the fan-base and brand-relationships that enable filmmakers to earn a consistent living, a roadmap our company, ZoomTilt, has been working hard to lay groundwork for. There are already some great partnership networks out there for established YouTube video blog superstars with big followings, like Maker Studios and Fullscreen, but there are a lot less options for original web TV shows and aspiring indie entertainment creators. Third, the web is a different entertainment medium, one where audiences are fragmented, attention spans are typically shorter, it takes more differentiation to stand-out and the format biases certain genres and viewer demographics.
But that doesn’t mean the change isn’t coming. Mark Suster, a prominent California-based VC at GRP Partners, has famously proclaimed “the future of the internet is television.” Although ZoomTilt is only in its first year, based on the traction, momentum, feedback and market-research we’ve already been a part of, we couldn’t agree more, and are excited to be helping to lead the charge.
Today, we’re proud to officially launch the first week of The TV Reset Project. The TV Reset Project includes the launch of (1) our global talent contest for five, talented, up-and-coming independent filmmakers, (2) the start of our fundraising campaign at IndieGoGo to be able to provide additional budget support to our filmmakers, and (3) the season premier of our second digital series, crime-thriller “Dead Man’s Trigger,” directed by Juan Reinoso and starring Hassan Johnson (HBO’s The Wire, ER, Belly).
The overall goal of The TV Reset Project is to build a community-driven entertainment network that provides development, marketing and distribution support to original work by independent filmmakers, film students, screenwriters and actors/actresses. By enabling independent creative artists make financially sustainable internet TV, we can introduce democracy, meritocracy, diversity and originality to digital entertainment like never before.
Today, our IndieGoGo campaign went live. Tomorrow night (Wednesday), Episode 1 of “Dead Man’s Trigger” premiers on our YouTube channel, so make sure you’re following ZoomTilt on Twitter (@ZoomTilt) and Facebook (Facebook.com/ZoomTilt) so you don’t miss the release announcement. In addition, in celebration of The TV Reset Project, the ZoomTilt crew is going to get pretty creative with their own video-making, so stay tuned for some original skits and sketches debuting throughout TV Reset Month. We hope you’ll continue to tune in.