There’s an interesting discussion going on at Kfir Pravda’s blog, Media, Technology, and Rebel Filmmaking, where he posed the question “Can Someone Please Create the HBO of Online Video?”
Some argue that a space on the web where viewers can find consistent, quality content produced by industry professionals hasn’t been built because there’s not yet enough money in the industry. Good programming requires a lot of cash, and great programming requires tons of it. The business of web video cannot support a site capable of supporting the talent necessary to create top quality content.
But the economics of internet-TV have become clear, and Hollywood veterans and venture capital firms have already begun investing their experience and money into a few sites that could, in fact, turn out to be the Home Box Office of the web.
MyDamnChannel launched last month with funding from Okapi Venture Capital with music producer Don Was, filmmaker David Wain, and comedian Harry Shearer amongst its founders. There were some initial concerns about the site being nothing more than a “catch-all comedy warehouse with an ambiguous brand”, but Was interviews are incredible, “Wainy Days” looks like it could be a winning sitdotcom, and they’re rolling out new shows regularly.
In late May, HungryManTV launched with original programming created by the commercial production house, HungryMan – most famous for the “This is SportsCenter” ad campaign. So far, the content is only mildly amusing, but they have the talent, experience, and finances needed to turn the site into a go-to destination.
60Frames was started by United Talent Agency in July with a $3.5 million investment and has already made a deal with the Coen brothers for an online series. The company will clearly be able to wrangle top Hollywood talent across the board.
And then there’s the Michael Eisner-backed Vuguru. The production house has two successful web series under its belt – SamHas7Friends (Tilzy.TV page) and Prom Queen (Tilzy.TV page) – and is working on a third, The All-For-Nots, with the creators of The Burg (Tilzy.TV page).
Any one of these could turn out to be the next HBO. Granted, Vuguru and 60Frames aren’t websites, they’re production companies. Their products are going to show up all over the place (at least for now), not on one catch-all site for quality content.
But in the online video space, is there really a need for an HBO?
The question itself confines internet-TV to the paradigm of old TV. Web video hit the mainstream with YouTube and we can’t help but call what we watch online “television,” so we’ve been looking at the medium through the lens of a one-stop-shop and forcing it to fit into a network mentality.
But open distribution changes everything. There can be quality programming in all corners of the internet without links to an overarching brand. Why not? Networks are a construct of the technical limitations of old TV. The web is different. As Jeff Jarvis notes, portals are a thing of the past.
The medium is also still in its infancy. Give 60Frames and Vuguru some time to grow and produce shows, and I’m sure that we’ll hear them compared to production houses like DreamWorks or The Weinstein Company.
So who’s going to be the HBO of online video? I don’t think we need one.