Vuguru has always had an eye or two outside the fickle US market for online content. When Michael Eisner’s Tornante Company opened its online studio in early 2007, it scored a hit in its first at bat, taking teen drama Prom Queen abroad to foreign buyers. Yes, even selling Japanese rights (as Tokyo Prom Queen) in a country that doesn’t even celebrate prom.
Flash forward to 2010. Even with a much stronger domestic US market for online content, and a commitment to stepping up its production output, Vuguru is still looking to international as the linchpin of its broader multiplatform strategy. After last year’s investment from Rogers Media, which brought in a long-term Canadian distribution partner, the studio looked beyond North America for its next move.
Vuguru just signed a two-year agreement with ContentFilm’s Fireworks International, giving the distributor a first-look opportunity to acquire international multi-platform distribution rights—except for the US and Canada—for all Vuguru’s new productions. The partership comes after a successful test-run with Fireworks for psych thriller The Booth and the End—we’re told a major international deal for the series will be announced soon.
Pretty Tough is the latest web series project that the studio is taking to the international markets hoping to entice buyers hungry for reasonably priced US entertainment content. First stop for the 18-episode web series is MIPCOM 2010 in Cannes. Fireworks has one of the more impressive track records for selling web series abroad taking steampunk drama Riese to SyFy along with shopping fellow Streamy-winner Valemont, both of which were positioned as both short-form series and longer-form television.
“International is a big piece of the business for us,” Vuguru’s President Larry Tanz told us. “It’s very strategic for us because we have buyers who are looking for premium scripted content and they are buying it.”
He cited France Telecom’s Orange with its six recently launched mobile ‘bouquets’ which are hungry for programming content, particularly short-form. Other mobile buyers like Germany’s Deutsche Telekom are also said to be on the lookout for US content.
I asked whether pre-sales—the practice of advance selling international territories before the content is even produced—are part of the business model, and as of now Tanz says they are not. “We aren’t using an international pre-sale as decision criteria for going ahead a project,” he noted, adding however, that “the ContentFilm [Fireworks] deal helps us know early on if there is a market for it.”
Tanz seemed to echo the optimism around online content that other digital execs have been showing this fall, like Lionsgate’s Curt Marvis last week. So have we turned the proverbial corner in terms of a self-sustaining industry?
“I think we’re gettting there,” Tanz added. “Between the ContentFilm and the Rogers deal, and the US ad-supported online, we feel really good about the business model.”
And checking in on Vuguru wouldn’t be complete without nudging them for a clue as to when we in the States will get to see Prom Queen: The Homecoming getting its online bow.
“We’ve started to gather a lot more momentum behind it in terms of sponsors,” said Tanz. “Rogers has already launched it in Canada. It will come out with a distributor and advertiser combination behind it.”
(Photo above from Pretty Tough, courtesy of Vuguru)