Posts for 'Stage 9'

  • Lessons from Two Recent Deals: NBCU-60Frames and Microsoft/MSN Video-Disney/Stage 9

    I always hesitate to conclude too much from just a couple data points, but two deals in the last week - between NBCU and 60Frames and between Microsoft/MSN Video and Disney/Stage 9 - feel to me like leading indicators of more deals of this kind to come.

    In case you missed the news, last Tuesday, NBCU and 60Frames, an independent broadband-only studio I've written about, announced a comprehensive content development and ad sales deal. Critically, NBCU will take original broadband-only shows from 60Frames to brands/agencies with which it has relationships to pursue both upfront sponsorships and possible brand integration.

    Then this past Monday, Disney and Microsoft announced at MIPCOM that Stage 9, Disney's in-house broadband-only studio which I've also written about, would begin syndicating its shows to MSN Video for European viewers. While smaller in scope, the Disney-MS deal is no less noteworthy.

    I see at least three underlying threads to these deals that suggest broader market implications. First, the deals are further evidence that the broadband-only video model is still nascent and in need of market validation and financial support. If these deals are in fact harbingers, this support will come from established players like NBCU and Microsoft who have significant reach and access to ad dollars. Somewhat ironically these are also companies that have financial stakes (either through direct ownership of or important customer/strategic relationships with) the very incumbent media properties that the broadband-only crowd is trying to grab eyeballs away from.

    Second, the down economy is a catalyst for more of these types of deals. Last week, in "5 Conclusions About the Bad Economy's Effect on Broadband Video," I asserted that the broadband-only studios would tighten their belts a bit to conserve resources in this uncertain climate. One way to mitigate their financial risk and uncertainty is through these linkups with deep pocketed partners. NBCU's backing of the 60Frames slate appears to be the most extensive of these types of deals to date. That Stage 9 - owned by well-funded Disney - is also hunting down big distribution partners which have brand relationships is still further evidence that risk mitigation is a key priority.

    Third, the deals point to an acceleration of the trend toward broadband video syndication. In a presentation I give periodically to industry executives, I have a slide titled "Syndicated Video Economy Accelerates" which lists the reasons as: (1) Ongoing video explosion causes heightened need to break through to audiences, (2) Device proliferation causes even more audience fragmentation, (3) Ad model firms up, improving ROI for free, widely distributed video and (4) Social media use means surging user-driven syndication. That slide needs to be updated for a new #1 reason motivating syndication: "In a down economy, syndication could mean the difference between success and failure for broadband-only studios and even big media backed broadband initiatives."

    Here's something else to consider: what role might YouTube, the market's undisputed 800 pound gorilla, play as an emerging distributor and financial backer of broadband-only video? Despite its much-avowed disinterest in being a content provider, YouTube, with Google's abundant balance sheet, is in a Warren Buffet-like position to become the go-to resource for financial backing and key distribution. (Readers who are cable industry veterans will also see a potential parallel to the M.O. of TCI back in the 1980's and 90's.) Couple Google's billions with YouTube's massive reach, desire to move up the quality ladder from its UGC roots, pursuit of new ad models and commerce models and its budding GCN initiative, and the company really is superbly positioned to play a role in the development of broadband-only programming.

    Anyway, I digress. For now, it's fair to say that these two deals do not yet make a trend. But still, I think it's extremely likely that we'll see many more of these kinds of linkups in the months to come. We're living in a hunker down time, when starry-eyed creatives enticed by broadband's no-rules freedom will be tempered by business executives' no-nonsense pursuit of financial viability.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

    (Btw, for a deeper dive into how broadband-only studios ride out the economic storm, join me for the Broadband Video Leadership Breakfast Panel in Boston on Nov 10th. One of our panelists will be Fred Seibert, creative director and co-founder of Next New Networks, arguably the granddaddy of the broadband-only crowd, having raised over $23 million to date. Early bird pricing ends on Friday.)

  • 60Frames Pioneers "Broadband Studio" Model

    Last week I had a chance to sit down with Brent Weinstein, CEO/founder of 60Frames, which is among a new group of companies I refer to as "broadband studios." This is a category that has generated a healthy amount of funding and activity recently, including, among others, Next New Networks ($23 million to date), Generate ($6 million), Revision3 ($9 million), Stage 9 (Disney/ABC's in-house unit), Vuguru (Michael Eisner's shop) and a slew of comedy-focused initiatives. 60Frames itself has raised $3.5 million from Tudor, Pilot Group and others.

    The impetus for 60Frames came when Brent was heading up digital entertainment at UTA and observed that many clients wanted to create digital/broadband fare but wanted a partner for the same roles they've come to expect studios to handle (e.g. financing, distribution, legal, creative, etc.). 60Frames aims to differentiate itself from the pack by being "artist-friendly" - allowing greater creative control and more significant ownership and by relying on strong relationships. With an existing staff of 11 and a goal of launching 50 programs by year end, the 60Frames team is no doubt going full tilt.

    60Frames is following a traditional portfolio approach, working with great talent (Coen brothers, John August, Tom Fontana, others) but recognizing that results in this new medium will vary - there will be some winners and some losers. The goal is obviously to have the best ratio possible. Traditional studios improve their odds by using collective history and data about what types of projects succeed and which ones don't. But no such lengthy track record or data exists in broadband just yet, so it's a lot more speculative pursuit.

    I asked Brent if there's any creative formula 60Frames is using to guide its decision-making. He was pretty emphatic that there's no "formula," but did concede 60Frames is focused on short-form (under 5 minutes), is biased toward comedy where episodes can stand alone more readily, and is mainly looking at niche audiences with a bulls-eye of 18-34 men, where consumption is highest.

    Nurturing relationships and developing great content is only part of the equation for these budding studios' success. Distribution and monetization are also incredibly important, as broadband necessitates an entirely different model. Regarding distribution, I was encouraged to see 60Frames is solidly in the syndication camp to the point that it has not even set up destination sites for its 7 launched programs yet. 60Frames has a network of partners including Bebo,, DailyMotion, iTunes, MySpace, YouTube and others. Gaining access to all the popular online destinations will accelerate success. Meanwhile advertising is being handled by partner SpotRunner, which has deep hooks in the space.

    Broadband studios like 60Frames harken back to the original studio moguls in some ways - taking creative and financial risk to explore what works in a new medium. It's way too early to know if or to what extent they'll succeed, but if they do we can expect a gold rush of imitators.

  • Disney/ABC's Stage 9 Launches, With YouTube

    Disney/ABC Television Group's official announcement this morning of Stage 9 Digital Media, an experimental new media content studio, is another key milestone in the fast-moving broadband video industry.

    I got a short briefing about Stage 9 late yesterday from Disney/ABC because it asked me to provide some analyst context to the LA Times' Dawn Chmielewski, who's done a great piece here. Stage 9 is Disney/ABC's key initiative to reach the coveted 18-34 audience in synch with this audience's unique media consumption patterns. Programming will be short, funny, well-produced, episodic, and widely distributed through popular broadband sites, social networks, mobile and download services.

    I interpret Disney/ABC's move, when coupled with recent initiatives by other big media companies into original broadband video production, as further evidence of two key trends: that broadband video has come of age as a key priority for the largest media companies and that it is impossible to appeal to today's younger audiences simply by hewing to the traditional rules of the media game.


    Also of significance is that Disney/ABC announced that "Squeegees," which is Stage 9's first release, will be co-exclusively premiered on and YouTube starting today and sponsored by Toyota. Yes, you read that right. YouTube! The scruffy user-generated phenom that big media was threatening to sue out existence not so long ago, and which of course is now owned by Google, big media's most anxiety-inducing "frenemy," has been elevated to launch partner status for Stage 9's first program.

    The "Squeegees" co-premiere is quite an accomplishment for YouTube. It shows that YouTube's methodical efforts to gain legitimacy (and a business model!) by establishing partner channels with media companies are beginning to pay off. David Eun, Google's VP of Content Partnerships has repeatedly explained this game plan to me, and others over the last year. The Stage 9 launch partnership should certainly be regarded as a major win for the young company. It is also another data point I'd use to support my contention that in the broadband age, traditional conceptions about copyright monetization need to be radically re-thought (Viacom, are you listening?).

    I'm enthusiastic about the Stage 9 initiative, as I believe it holds lots of potential for Disney/ABC. It gives the company inroads to the elusive 18-34 set, offers the prospect of innumerable and invaluable insights about how to effectively program in the broadband age, provides a whole new internal breeding ground for developing new on-air programming (a possible double win, as this might help fix the broken and expensive traditional pilot process, though my enthusiasm on this point is tempered by news today of Quarterlife's NBC ratings fiasco) and creates new and exciting multi-platform sponsorship opportunities.

    In short, the strategy is sound and the upside significant. Now for the hard part: Stage 9 needs to execute and actually deliver on all this potential.

    What do you think? Post a comment now!

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