Digital Power: Content Captains

Developing new-media programming to remember

Felicia Day (Illustration by Christopher Hues)
Felicia Day

Writing, producing and starring in your own online show is no small feat, but managing to score lucrative distribution deals with Microsoft and a DVD deal with Amazon is practically unheard of in Web television. As creator and star of "The Guild," an online show based on the lives of massively multiplayer online gamers, Day is changing the way people -- and networks -- look at online content. In late 2008, she spurned dozens of offers for "Guild" to strike an unprecedented deal that put the second season of the series on Xbox Live, MSN Video and Zune; it did well enough to merit a third-season order. The webisodes are now available worldwide and are subtitled in eight different languages.

Max Benator
Head of digital media, RDF USA

The former UTA agent is aggressively changing how Web series get produced and distributed. At RDF, Benator's approach begins with the development of a Web series in conjunction with a brand sponsor, selling digital rights to multiple sites and eventually licensing international TV rights. "Position of the Day," an RDF Web original, aggregated
7 million views before selling to TV stations globally. RDF also develops interactive games and shows that promote its TV shows, like Lifetime's "How to Look Good Naked."

Allen DeBevoise
Chairman and CEO, Machinima

In 2004, DeBevoise turned a technique into a proper noun. Now Machinima, which renders video game graphics in real-time to provide a backdrop for filming original content, reports as many as 50 million video views per month on its Web site. But the filming technique has yet to resonate much beyond that demographic. To change that, last winter DeBevoise signed writers from 15 popular sitcoms to create 15 machinima-based comedy pilots for his site. He's not-so-secretly hoping the low-cost filming and online piloting will produce the next "The Simpsons"; perhaps that's why at least six of the newly signed writers have also written for that animated empire. "This is going to be an interesting experiment for both the Internet and television industries," he says.

Dan Goodman
President, MRC Digital

Leaving a position as Ogilvy & Mather's chief digital officer to run digital at a new company isn't an obvious step up. Until you see what Goodman gets to oversee: an online series by "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane, who inked a groundbreaking deal for distribution on Google/YouTube; the digital strategy for all of the boutique studio's films, including Sacha Baron Cohen's upcoming "Bruno"; and offshoots of such TV shows as "Surviving Suburbia" and "Rita Rocks." Goodman's ad background has helped him snag partners like Burger King, Priceline and Pampers. The common thread is making money: "We develop everything with the expectation that it pay out," he says.

Michael Kernan
CEO, NuMedia Studios

When Kernan left ICM to launch NuMedia Studios in February 2008, he immediately began both financing and producing. He's scored online series this year from CBS' "Heckle U" to an upcoming conservation-themed project with Facebook by using his agenting skills to cozy up to Madison Avenue capital. "There's two ways to make money online: either the audience pays you or the advertiser pays you," he says. "And the audience isn't paying." Kernan has even staffed up in Washington to find issue-oriented organizations looking to spread influence online.

David Luner
Senior vp, interactive and consumer products, FremantleMedia Enterprises, North America

Luner is a self-confessed game show fanatic who's competed on "Hollywood Squares" and "Card Sharks." That's come in handy designing interactive campaigns at Fremantle, whose properties include "American Idol," "The Price Is Right" and "Family Feud." Over the past 12 months, he's notched several industry firsts: selling "Idol" performances on iTunes minutes after they air; creating an "Idol" virtual world within Habbo, the world's largest virtual community for teens; and creating a hit "Price" app for iPhone. All this even though a ban on Fremantle execs appearing on its shows "almost prevented me from taking the job," he jokes.

Ricky Van Veen
Co-founder and editor in chief,

Most ideas that come to college students at 4 a.m. tend to be a bit frivolous. But Van Veen's brainstorm of creating a comedy Web site not only proved viable, it came into its own this year by spawning a scripted comedy show on MTV as well as a feature-length comedy deal with Paramount. In addition to CH books and a live comedy tour, the site (part of Barry Diller's IAC since 2006) now boasts 4 million unique visitors a month. "In terms of people making content directly for the Web, I feel like we have the best batting average," Van Veen says. "For every dollar we spend, we get the most views for our videos."

Michael Wayne
Co-founder, president and CEO, Deca

Wayne launched his first startup, an English-language magazine in Prague, right our of college in 1995. He then helped build music site, which raised $80 million in 2001 and was later bought by Yahoo. And since 2007, he's raised $30 million for his digital entertainment startup that nurtures "organically grown Internet stars." So far, he's built seven properties, including Smosh, a teen site that's the third most-watched YouTube channel of all time; Momversation, videos and blogs by moms; and Project Lore, dedicated to the popular online game World of Warcraft. "There is this idea that talent is based in L.A," he says. "We feel that Internet talent is all over the world."

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