The Internet is becoming a feeder line in the TV production conduit. Two Web start-ups, AntEye and Eveo, are looking to spawn pilot shows by collecting short-form videos by novice directors, exhibiting them online and mining them for TV gems in the rough.
Over the next year, AntEye plans to fund 32 pilots at $100,000 apiece and two feature-length digital films for $250,000 each, according to CEO Matti Leshem. In its first wave, AntEye this week is sending engineers in vans equipped as mobile digital studios to cruise college campuses and other likely locales in Austin, Texas; Atlanta; Kansas City, Kan.; Madison, Wis.; Seattle; and Toronto.
That' s intended to help encourage video submissions in each market, with one winner selected from each to receive AntEye backing for either a pilot effort or a digital movie. The company is staging an event in Seattle to announce the winners on April 15; participants in the six cities will be linked by satellite. "You've got to go to where the people are and get real traction," says Leshem, whose most recent media project was programming USA Broadcasting' s WAMI-TV Miami.
In its second year, Leshem says, Anteye will fund 40 TV plots and four feature-length projects.
"There's a whole new form, which is short-form, and long-form ideas can come out of it," he says, adding that he intends to accept any kind of video content five to 20 minutes long, "as long as it's not illegal."
It's an ultimately egalitarian approach, with winners winnowed out according to which videos draw the most action on the AntEye site (www.anteye.com). Leshem expects comedy, reality-based videos and extreme sports to be the most watched. AntEye will establish a 50/50 partnership with the creators of the concepts it successfully floats to cable or broadcast networks.
He sees a likely market among cable programmers and says a major studio has already expressed interest in co-locating the best of AntEye's video submissions on its own Web site.
Although he expects 85% of the submissions to be "crap," he' s banking on the remaining 15% to yield something that will spark the interest of TV programmers "dying for someone to walk through the door with something unique."
Leshem expects AntEye to start production on pilots next fall.
Eveo' s approach is similar, but without the pilot funding. It has been soliciting short-form videos for its site (www.eveo.com) since January and plans to offer would-be directors 55% of any profit on any content that it licenses and, in turn, sells to television outlets, according to founder and CEO Olivier Zitoun.
"There' s the possibility to turn one of these short videos into a series or a feature film," he says.
Eveo is already talking to HBO, Showtime, NBC and FOX about use of its short-form content for interstitials. More immediately, it will syndicate its content to @Home and Road Runner, according to Zitoun.
Its site launches this week with 500 videos in such categories as adventure, extreme sports, travel and documentary. Creators will be paid a five-cent royalty for each click on their content. The content that attracts the most hits will be put on other sites as well. "We see a very simple model to syndicate to other portals or more vertical sites," says Zitoun.
But the ultimate goal, as in AntEye's model, is to push this fresh-form video into the TV production pipeline.
It' s a strategy that' s already being explored by independent-film sites, most notably AtomFilms, which licenses rights to the films it aggregates on its site for offline after-markets. AtomFilms has already sold some video content to HBO for interstitial airing on The Movie Channel.
Gary Arlen, principal analyst for Bethesda, Md.-based Arlen Communications, believes Web programmers can play a role in the TV production picture.
He believes the concept of gauging audience reaction to short-form content online could assume an increasingly significant place in future television formats. "I do think there' s an opportunity," he says. "It does occupy a particular niche. But then, I don't know that the next generation of viewers is ready to watch 30-minute or 60-minute shows as we have for the past 50 years."
AntEye may take the strategy to another level, with plans to eventually establish its own production studio, according to Leshem. "It's Internet speed," he says. "It's a different way of programming."
Eveo has no such ambitious plans. But it does plan to make video software available on its site, along with tutorials on video production, according to Zitoun. He says the company also will create an e-commerce component for sales of video production equipment, including digital cameras.
Both AntEye and Eveo are privately funded. Leshem declines to elaborate on his company's financing. Eveo is in its second round of financing, aiming to raise $10 million to $15 million.