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Cross-Media Content Production

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By Paige Donner
At the first annual Webby Connect conference held in Laguna Beach in October, former Disney chief Michael Eisner, who now heads his own media and entertainment investment firm, The Tornante Company, spoke proudly of Prom Queen, the webisodic series created by Vuguru, the �new media studio� that produces content for the new venture.
Vuguru is somewhat like YouTube, but Eisner says he and its audience, would like to see more story-driven content featured on the site. �I�m committed to storytelling. And ubiquitous distribution,� said Eisner, citing theburg.tv as a model of the kind of material he is aiming to create. (The Burg, an online episodic series that takes place in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has gathered audience momentum since first airing in 2006.)
If it is true that every cloud has a silver lining, then it is possible that the much-discussed WGA strike could open a wider crack in the production door for story-centric online distributed digital media. �A strike would allow Internet creators to steal away audiences from the traditional media,� said Fox Interactive Media president Ross Levinsohn at an industry lunch back in July. He added: �The only place where a strike is good is the interactive business. The ability to create and distribute programming across the internet and mobile is as simple as point-and-shoot.�
At the Webby Connect conference Vinton Cerf, one of the pioneers of the internet, stated that when the roughly 5 billion people on Earth who do not now regularly come into contact with the internet do so, they will accomplish this via mobile-device technology. That means that mobisodes will be the online content of choice worldwide.
Law & Order creator Dick Wolf admitted to being �horrified� when he discovered that not only does his 14-year-old son not watch network TV, but that none of his classmates do either. But more mature audiences still mostly watch TV, and compelling story lines need to be devised to lure them to �emerging media.�
Here, the worlds of entertainment and advertising merge. At Mekanism, a San Francisco multimedia production house, Jason Harris, president, stated, �Story for us is paramount. From a production standpoint, we�re agnostic. We can pull off the story via short film, long film, animation, a social networking site, TV, print. We use any and all means appropriate to tell the story.�
As for production costs, in his Webby Connect keynote Eisner said each 90-second webisode of Prom Queen was budgeted at $2,000. Eisner approached one sponsor Fuji Water, through a personal connection. He stated that the professional quality Prom Queen�s art direction, editing and overall production values is on a par with anything he ever did at ABC.
But what does this alternate source of production offer in the way of employment for below-the-line and union workers? Asked whether he had used union crew for Prom Queen, Eisner said no. Pressed to state whether there would be a place for union, below-the-line crew in productions for the web and mobile devices, he said, �No, it�s not feasible�yet.�
The �not yet� refrain seems to characterize the entire current phase of television and online media convergence. In the commercial industry, a 30-second national TV spot has an average budget of $372,000. Production budgets of $500,000 to $1 million per 30 are not uncommon for high-end commercials.
By contrast, Prom Queen�s $2,000 per 90 seconds for story-driven content has set the bar very low for �emerging� media. Such productions seem to fall into a different category.
But the market is changing fast. �There�s been a big shift in our budgets from even from one-and-a-half years ago,� said Mekanism�s Harris. �The money is shifting to the digital realm pretty quickly.� Just two $100,000 to $250,000 for a viral media campaign was normal, he pointed out. But now some budgets are in the $500,000 to $1 million range.
�With an integrated model you can capture more money,� said Harris, adding that now what�s expected is a cross-media campaign, meaning website, TV, interactive, and print media. One example is the Dove Nights campaign from Dove soap maker Unilever and its agency, MindShare.
The online marketing campaign they created back in March to launch Dove Nights body lotion garnered 5 million views. Companion TV commercials drove viewers (mostly women) to these mini-movies, which were directed by Penny Marshall and featured actress Felicity Huffman.

Written by Paige Donner

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