Q&A: Miles Beckett


NEW YORK -- "Lonelygirl15" and "KateModern" have made online content production firm EQAL a hot commodity in the entertainment industry. On Thursday, EQAL and CBS unveiled the launch of HarpersGlobe.com, a companion site to upcoming CBS show "Harper's Island." At the 2009 Media Summit NY on Thursday, EQAL co-founder and CEO Miles Beckett told THR New York bureau chief Georg Szalai about the new site, discussed the business of online content and hinted at an upcoming reality project with a celebrity.

The Hollywood Reporter: Tell me a bit about the idea behind HarpersGlobe.com and how it came together.

Miles Beckett: We pitched them this concept of this girl named Robin who goes to Harper's Island and works for the local newspaper Harper's Globe. We wanted to build a digital archive and community for the newspaper. And as murders begin, her life gets entwined in the mystery of Harper's Island. They were excited to work with us because of their experience with "Jericho." They could see how powerful an online audience could be.

THR: How does the content there fit in with the TV show?

Beckett: We describe it as relevant, but not required. You don't have to go to the Web site, you don't have to watch the online show to watch the TV show. But it's unlike traditional Web content, which is usually just bonus. I love "The Office," but the Webisodes and the content is totally unrelated to the TV show. No matter how good it is, I'm busy, and unless there's something extra I'm going to get from the TV show because of what I watched online, I'm probably not going to go. We are running Harper's Globe four weeks before the TV show starts and building into it. You can meet some of the characters and learn about some of the mysteries. It's like another subplot that's expanded online but ties into the show.

THR: You worked with social networking and other sites to raise awareness and promote the site.

Beckett: We built a destination site, HarpersGlobe.com. Obviously, there is also a page for "Harper's Island" on CBS.com. We've created fan pages on Facebook, MySpace, Imeem and on YouTube for Harper's Globe. The weekly online episode, which is about five minutes long, goes everywhere. The first one is up today. In addition, there is daily content on the site. There are posts, such as blogs and video uploads, from the characters. So, you can dive in super deep every day or just come once a week.

THR: I heard Twitter is the No. 1 refer site for Harper's Globe.

Beckett: If you're a user of the site, you can put in your Twitter credentials and link your Twitter account. If you are using the site, it will go out as a tweet to all your friends, and those are tagged as from Harper's Island. So, there has been some viral spread. And we have a Twitter account for Harper's Globe, for the show and one for Robin, which the character uses like a person.

THR: How could you charge for content you create online down the line?

Beckett: Companies always want to increase revenues. If you don't hurt the consumer experience, you will do that. With Harper's, it's a production that CBS pays for and does the ad sales for -- we produce. For the original stuff we do this year, our primary revenue is from sponsorships/advertising. Going forward, we are looking into integrating virtul economy solutions with third-party providers, so people can buy each other little gifts that are relevant to that property. For example, for the "Dark Chronicles" project we're doing with ("CSI" creator) Anthony Zuiker, maybe they can buy limited edition Zuiker signed items. We would never want to charge for the core content. Anything that you would typically see as an extra on a DVD -- like a director, producer or actor commentary; deleted scenes; missing episodes; etc -- you could charge for.

THR: What about subscriptions?

Beckett: I think what Flickr has done with a premium account with a yearly or monthly fee, that works better. If you really, really like content we produce, there will be some people who'd pay for this.

THR: What other original stuff are you doing this year?

Beckett: "Dark Chronicles" is a three-book project by Anthony Zuiker. He came up with the idea of a digi novel. Every time you read a chapter, there's a code and a call to action to consume some piece of multimedia content. For example, the killer sits down, puts a tape into the VCR and hits play. Go to DarkChronicles.com to access this video with a code. We're going to build the Web site, power the community and work with him to monetize the site. The book comes out this fall; the site will launch a little bit earlier.

THR: Any other projects?

Beckett: We have a couple that we haven't announced yet. "Harper's," "Dark Chronicles," "lonelygirl15" are all in the dark, mysterious world. We have other things coming out that are completely unrelated, that are reality-based. One is with a celebrity.

THR: Anymore you can say?

Beckett: Not yet.

THR: But you are not limited by genre ...

Beckett: As a company, we are completely genre-agnostic. We are format-specific in that we are focused on producing interactive online shows, building a community site around it and monetizing the site.

THR: Your CBS deal isn't exclusive, right?

Beckett: That's right. I'm sure we'll do some more stuff with CBS. We've been talking with all the other studios and networks. We'll probably be doing some things with them. We could also work with some other entity -- it could be a celebrity, a person online who is incredibly popular, a group of writers or directors or so on.

THR: Do you focus on profitability or growth these days?

Beckett: We don't really disclose our financials. We have hired people, we are growing in a competitive market. We are not focused on being profitable, we're focused on being lean. But we are focused on growing. That was a change. We couldn't do that before raising money ($5 million from investors), which we closed in April. That money is not for the projects, but for the company and its infrastructure. So, the economy is bad, but we are in good shape.

THR: How much can you ramp up production further?

Beckett: Like every entertainment company, we have a development slate that is very, very deep. But then the actual number of projects we execute is small. We're definitely not going to be pumping out tons and tons of shows. But we will do a handful over the course of this year that we hope will be really good.

THR: How do you pick projects?

Beckett: We take a very traditional approach and focus on three things. Do we have the financing? Do we have someone to promote and distribute it? And three, is it good? All those three have to be in place.

THR: I heard you are doing international syndication or licensing.

Beckett: Yes, we launched not long ago a local-language version of "LG15" in Poland in partnership with a media company called Agora. It's caled "N1ckola.pl." We are reaching out to other international media companies. The proposal is: You can either take our library of content, we can build a local-language version of the site and subtitle it. Or we can produce if you want a new localized version.