Seven burning questions

Hollywood hotshots mull monetizing digital convergence

I'm just back from Digital Hollywood, a quarterly bacchanaliaof digital gear, strategic marketing tête-à-têtes, seminars, and business-card trading, all designed to (five-alarm cliché alert here) monetize digital convergence.

Typically, these gatherings produce more questions than answers. Here, then, are seven burning questions that emerged from conversations, corridor talk, exhibitor market-need speak and panels:

How will I make any money?

At one of the cocktail receptions, I was intercepted by a nameless streaming media developer with a "suite of marketing solutions" he wanted to sell to television-program Web sites.

This fellow muttered something into his glass about everyone talking how "cool" this stuff is, but that no one has figured out how to make any money at carrying streaming content. "Until they do," he told me, "all of this will be just smoke and mirrors."

Will my video content be "Napsterized?"

Napster, of course, is the controversial, "peer-to-peer" technology that lets computer users swap music files with each other without paying for the content. I heard several conversations theorizing a "video Napster" scenario.

Here's how this would happen: A television viewer saves a pay-per-view movie on a personal TV digital recorder that also has Internet capability (read, an upgraded version of something like WebTV or TiVo).

Then, if the person had Napster service, he or she could search for any downloaded movie-on the hard drive of any other video Napster user who happened to be online at the same time. With a broadband Internet connection, such movies could be transferred from one consumer to another in just a few minutes.

How do I build an online "community" for a new TV series?

I had a nice chat with Bill Sanders, executive vice president of Big Ticket Television, a Paramount/Viacom company. Sanders told me about the forthcoming animated series Gary and Mike, about two Claymation-character twentysomethings on a road trip.

The show, set for a January 2001 launch on FOX, will have a Web site, but how do you make people aware of the site, and by extension, the show? Sanders told me that because the show's likely demographic "uses e-mail a lot, we're trying to reach them where they are."

Just buying mailing lists and then crafting the message is not a simple matter, though. The mailing list has to be vetted for demographic relevancy. An e-mail message must be crafted that serves the promotional need without sounding like hype. And there are technical issues, too: Not everyone's e-mail program is HTML-compliant. Some programs are only capable of displaying plain text messages, a format that makes it very difficult to embed a Web page link within the body of the message.

Will personal TV recorders hurt interactive television?

Since so much of interactive TV's appeal is to let the viewer play along with a show as it is being broadcast, what will it portend for the real-time interactive experience if more and more viewers record shows and then watch them later on? Stay tuned (or not, as the case may be).

Are Web-based content extensions of existing broadcast properties a good idea?

The poster example of this trend is the megabucks deal in which South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are devising content for the Web using Shockwave animation technology. Is this a brand extension, a spinoff, or some sort of hybrid?

I asked several people, and except for the refrain of "needing to expose content on as many platforms as possible," no one really knew. Or, knows.

As I extend my content to the Web, what can I learn from the recent failures of, Digital
Entertainment Network, and

To this, I say, watch how much money you spend, don't make grainy six-minute clips with oh-so-edgy scripts but lousy production values, and confirm that any marquee names you have signed up are committed to exercising their clout on your behalf when you need it.

Should I package my online avails with my on-air avails?

Of course you should. By doing so, you may introduce your existing on-air advertisers to a medium of which they may be skeptical. The trick is to make the online advertising work, and then to know when to wean'em.

Russell Shaw's column about Internet and interactive issues appears regularly. He can be reached at