Lionsgate has become such a staple of the entertainment landscape that it’s hard to believe the studio only dates back to 1995. TV and film have been its bread and butter, churning out hits like the Saw franchise, The Expendables and Kick-Ass along with Emmy-winning TV standouts like Weeds and Mad Men. For the most part, however, the studio has remained on the digital sidelines, aside from a few toe-dipping exploits like the companion web series to Weeds.
But now Lionsgate is ready to dive head first, committing real production dollars into crafting its own web original content.
Today the studio announced that 24-episode animated web series Trailer Trash will be their first entrant into the online-only arena. In the wispy, 2D animation style of South Park and Katalyst’s 2008 web series Blah Girls, Trash follows “the misadventures of four hillbillies” at a trailer park. If it sounds like a redneck version of Blah Girls, that would probably be Blah Girls creator Todd Harris Goldman’s doing, who created Trash along with hud:sun Media’s Max Benator.
A number of writers have been tapped to pen the comedy, with Pop-Up Video’s Amy Jackson and Skunk Fu!’s Andy Rheingold on as head writers. Goldman, who also illustrates the series, has a pretty hefty apparel company (David and Goliath) on the side and much like with Blah Girls, it’s likely we could see some Trailer Trash t-shirts popping up.
Even though hud:sun Media’s parent MDC is one of the largest players in the advertising world, this won’t be a branded entertainment project in the traditional sense at least. “The distinction is that other branded entertainment projects require the brand to come on board to get it financed,” Benator told us. “The show is not beholden to the brands or reliant on the brands,” he added, “but brands will still be involved.” He hinted at crafting special promos for brands akin to what The Simpsons created with Butterfinger.
Curt Marvis is Lionsgate’s president of digital, and despite coming over to the studio from CinemaNow in 2008, is finally pulling the trigger on ample budgeted web series. Some have suggested that Lionsgate is late to the web content game, Marvis however feels that everyone else was in fact too early. Now he feels there’s actually a business in releasing premium content on the major online networks like Hulu and YouTube.
“We see an opportunity for shows that are produced intelligently that are done with top quality creative talent,” Marvis told us. “There’s no question in our mind that you can create a business with that.” Now that the penetration of online video networks has moved from niche to mainstream, the ad dollars appear to be at the point where studios are willing to fund more elaborate content. Recent Comscore data showed that US viewers viewed nearly 3.6 billion online video ads in July, with Hulu generating the highest number of video ad impressions at 783 million.
“It’s no secret that video pre-roll has increasingly become an accepted medium on the web,” Marvis told us. “The kinds of CPMs that can commanded with the kind of content we are creating are starting to generate real dollars. And it doesn’t have to get 100 million views for it to be successful.”
Distribution partners for Trailer Trash, which is set to debut online later this year, have not yet been disclosed, though Marvis did note that they are talking to the “usual suspects” in terms of distributors. The studio already distributes most of its library to Hulu, and it’s a safe bet to assume that will be one of the primary homes for their web series along with YouTube. There’s also Epix, the pay TV movie channel akin to HBO and Showtime in which Lionsgate is a co-owner. While web original content probably won’t be a top priority at Epix, it’s worth keeping an eye on especially as it just inked a billion dollar streaming content deal with Netflix.
This is one of many web series projects that the studio plans to do in the next year. We’re also hearing word of a major scripted web series project that could get the go-ahead from Lionsgate involving some web creators we’ve written about quite often here on Tubefilter. More on that as it develops. Either way, another place to pitch web projects is added today to the growing lineup of must-meets for web creators.
“You have to find projects that are appropriate for the medium not just in terms of length but for their cost,” added Marvis. “It’s shows like The LXD that start showing what can happen you have the right material.”