Web studio EQAL, which now likes to call itself a social entertainment company, is taking a big step into the platform game today. The company announced today (at Twiistup in Los Angeles) it is rolling out a consumer version of their core social website platform that they are calling Umbrella.
This tool will allow independent producers, celebrity talent and online personalities to create their own Web site and develop an audience on the Internet using the same enterprise-grade platform that powers EQAL’s premium partner Web sites, but with simplified publishing and a clean, user-friendly management interface. (from the annoucement)
These guys built their brand around creating not only the first breakout episodic drama (lonelygirl15) but the social community that formed around it. Still to this day, even after the series has been shelved, the fan base remains active, and gravitated to subsequent EQAL series like KateModern, Harper’s Globe and the upcoming Level 26 project from CSI creator Anthony Zuiker.
The recently launched Level26.com site is built of of EQAL’s core social platform, hooked in to their central user database of previous shows allowing for relatively seamless porting of user profiles for registered members of their other sites. It has all you’d expect from a modern social networking site—Twitter, Facebook and YouTube integration, but also a pretty robust set of backend tools that give show creators deep visibilty into the audience.
The VC-backed company is moving away from being a pure content play as it now jumps in the platform business, which is probably the better bet for scaling the company. The team will continue to work with high-level talent like Zuiker and cooking personality Paula Deen (Get Cookin’), though at this point there don’t appear to be any purely original lonelygirl15-type series in the works.
In effect, the EQAL team is taking what they’ve mastered, building tools for social engagement with shows, and handing them over to the next generation of upstarts who want a crack at the next LG15. Right now the platform is in private beta, though the company said they are actively looking for web series and talent that want to use the software to manage their sites.
Some web series have turned to other turnkey offerings like Ning for their community sites, including The Guild, but still have relied on publishing platforms like WordPress for their main sites. Umbrella appears to marry those two in a more complete offering, adding chat rooms, forums, user account and blogging all in one interface.
We asked EQAL’s Miles Beckett what the business model is for the product, and it’s clear that the software will be a paid product, though they may experiment with a freemium option that gives some basic set of the tools for free.
“Our plan is for this to be a premium paid product that gives content creators the option of having complete control of their advertising sales or partnering with us and participating in a rev share,” said Beckett. “However, we’re not certain the exact model and we’ll be using the private beta to figure this out (for instance, we might have an entry-level free version). Our desire is to give content creators complete control over how they choose to monetize their audience.”