The latest addition to a long line of new media forays backed by major media compaines is Fox Television Studio’s 15 Gigs, which recently sponsored a coveted prize at the New York Television Festival. While covering the festival, I had a chance to sit down and chat with two of 15 Gigs’ executives, Ilsa Berg, Director of Programming and Rachel Webber, Director of Digital Strategy and Development. We wanted to know what exactly they are planning to succeed in a space still looking for its go-to model.
Fox Television Studios, Fox’s cable production arm, best known for edgy shows like The Shield and Burn Notice, is taking a different approach to creating a new media branch with 15 Gigs. “[We're] not in the business of creating a destination site” proclaimed Webber, such as Sony’s Crackle, perhaps to avoid competing with parent-backed Hulu. Also, they are not strictly sticking to branded entertainment like NBC’s Digital Studio. They are looking more towards a diversified portfolio strategy, and as a company under Fox’s cable production arm, they are expecting to launch some of their web series to cable television. Don’t get the idea that they are trying to produce TV content squished into a YouTube box either, like ABC/Disney’s failed attempt, Stage 9. While their series thus far have not completely leveraged the internet’s key difference from TV, interactivity, the series they have put out have been compelling and have explored new formats. A few examples from their current slate:
- Tease, a dramedy set in a strip club, definitely something not necessarily fit for TV.
- The Iceman Chronicles is an absurd thriller who-done-it in the vein of Twin Peaks
- The Skinny: Fat Free News, a satirical pop culture news show with many scripted moments featuring two comically vapid hosts.
- When Ninjas Attack is a scripted mock-game show in the vein of G4′s Ninja Warrior, only a little more ridiculous.
In terms of content, Berg wants 15 Gigs to run the gambit of genres, as long as it is “smart character driven content from someone who is ambitious and energetic and who … is not going to be upset with [not having a lot of money].” She added, “if you come into pitch me … understand what we do … but [also understand] we are cross genre and cross platform. If someone has a film that can work as a web series, we are interested.” Webber continued, ” [we want producers] with an understanding of the way people consume on [the web] … having someone that’s … going to have an answer to why this is going to stand out and work on the web.” She added jokingly, “I don’t know the answer to the question, but have one!” Hammering the point home, Webber commanded “that piece of content being the funniest thing you’ve ever seen should be a given!”
They are continuing to look into Branded Entertainment, Berg mentioned, “We really wanted to get our portfolio of content out … so we can take [it] to brands.” She also added, she did not want to go to brands necessarilly as simply a way of financing, “we’re really looking to work with brands in creative ways.”
As a brand themselves, 15 Gigs is not expecting to be consumer focused. Webber explained, “15 Gigs brand matters in the B2B sense … [we want to] mean something to the young creative community who will work with us and [as] a brand that matters to a network and a branded content community.” They are really more interested in letting the individual content speak for itself, as can be seen by their current strategy of releasing content with little fanfare.
Using Existing Sites to Market
Webber will be ramping up marketing efforts for the fledgling studio as she finishes her transition, “We’re really just starting out, … figuring out out how to virally get stuff out there.” One of the reasons they aren’t pushing marketing so heavily on these series perhaps lies in their goals for 15 Gigs. “Numbers aren’t the only measures of success” added Berg, “I don’t think that network executives are only looking at numbers in the digital space,” also, “Ultimately, it’s about the content and can that content be episodic.”
On top of this, their hope is to leverage key distribution partnerships and existing social tools such as Hulu, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter to promote interactivity without the hefty price tag that comes from full scale build-outs. They believe they can do some cool things utilizing these platforms. They hinted at a future project that uses some additional features on Facebook that will help create a truly branded entertainment series, but they could not comment further.
Learning from the Studio System
Another interesting approach they are taking hearkens back to the studio system. They are actively looking to partner with existing content creators and production companies and letting them do what they do best creating content. They have already teamed up with new media veterans, Black20, who you may best remember from their breakout viral video “300 PG Version“. Berg commented “[Black20 is] producing content for us. We’re really developing them as a brand [and] as a company. It’s another way for us to develop even more shows … they’re just really smart funny guys.” Together they have created the well received, Heart Felt, a hilarious show that takes the best parts of shows like The OC , The Hills, and The Muppets Take Manhattan and puts them in a blender.
Another benefit of being attached to a major studio is getting big name talent attached. Mike Horowitz writer on USA’s Burn Notice created Ashley the Wise, a post-apocalytpic comedy following a valley girl trying to find her boyfriend. To sweeten the pot, the series is narrated by the most famous B-actor of all time Bruce Campbell. While its genre mash-up may scare away the traditional network folks it’s a perfect fit for the web.
Developing for TV — Already
As mentioned earlier, one of their biggest goals is to push some of the web content to television. Berg explained, “we will be redeveloping [series] for TV based on what works … online … [and] what networks want [to see].” Just within weeks of launching properly, 15 Gigs is already hard at work developing their series, When Ninja’s Attack for television. They are even going so far as repositioning this scripted game show as an actual game show with real life contestants.
Keys to Success
For now, their key to future success will be in frugality. “We’re not spending at the same kind of levels [as Studio 9] … It’s really the DNA of Fox TV Studios in general … our traditional approach in development is how do you minimize [cost] the most.” They are generally spending somewhere between $5,000 and $25,000 on their series.
It remains to be seen whether or not they will reign in as major competitors in this space. While they are not first movers, they seemed to be taking to heart the lessons learned previous ventures into this arena.