Eisner's Prom Queen sets precedent
Michael Eisner’s Vuguru, one of the first studios dedicated to Internet video production, announced a stage-setting deal on Monday.
The studio, owned by Eisner’s The Tornante Company, sold its Internet original series, Prom Queen and Prom Queen: Summer Heat, to French company Cyber-Group Animation and to Japanese company Rights Entertainment. Cyber-Group Animation will distribute the show across wireless mobile, broadband, traditional TV and home video platforms. Rights Entertainment will distribute a Japanese-language version of the show and create a localized version.
Prom Queen originally premiered on portals such as MySpace and Veoh.com – which is partially funded by Tornante — where it was viewed by more than 15 million people during its summer run. It did well enough to spawn a successor, Summer Heat.
Putting that in context, in the week of Oct. 2, CSI: Miami attracted an average of 15.08 million viewers, demonstrating how the gap between TV and Internet is rapidly narrowing. That explains, in part, why companies like Eisner’s are on to something.
What Eisner’s deal shows is that there is an after-market for the professional production, syndication and distribution of short-form series created originally for the Internet. At this point, it may not be the most lucrative market – it’s not selling Friends to TV stations, but we’ll probably never see that day again – but Web 2.0 is a digital Wild West as far as Hollywood is concerned.
Eisner’s deal should be great news to entrepreneurial producers. The business of traditional syndication – selling domestically-produced TV shows to domestic TV stations – is all grown up. Most of syndication’s big shows – Oprah, Entertainment Tonight, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, Judge Judy – have been on forever, they have a steady (although declining) viewer base, and stations have them renewed out for years. That doesn’t mean syndication is failing, but it does mean it’s crowded. New shows have a hard time breaking through, because old shows are firmly entrenched. The big shows – the Oprahs, the Phils – make tons of money and they aren’t going anywhere. That’s why producers are well-served by looking beyond TV.
Eisner is certainly not the first person to grasp this concept. Reality uber-producer Mark Burnett has produced shows for AOL (one called Gold Rush, in fact), and plenty of Web sites (Funnyordie.com, MyDamnChannel.com) are popping up, hoping to get a toehold in these early days. Eisner is the first one to broker an international deal for a short-form Internet series, but it won’t be long before buying and selling short-form multi-platform content and looking for the next big Internet hit – like the syndication market of old – will be business as usual.