WebVisions 2007: Cash and Creativity on the Webernet

by Luke Wroblewski May 5, 2007

Ask a Ninja's Kent Nichols & Douglas Sarine walked through what has worked and not worked for several pioneering Web video producers in their Cash and Creativity on the Webernet: The Past and Future of Online Video keynote at WebVisions 2007.

  • HomestartRunner.com: created a universe of characters, used fan input to grow (interaction grew popularity), gave episodes away for free (when competing with marketing budgets, the only way to grow is to have your content seen), made money off of merchandising (t-shirt sales). Could have added a place for fans to have dialog with each other, needs another revenue stream (merchandising is a long path to success).
  • Four business models: merchandising, premium subscription fess (premium or early access –no lockdown), advertising (functional ads that are not offensive to users), licensing (own your brand).
  • RedvsBlue.com: told a long narrative over several chunks (kept people coming back for character development), great community interaction (best of breed discussions), used two revenue streams (early release & special content) & merchandising. Could have more than two revenue streams (due to dedicated fan base), can’t do much merchandising because they are using the IP of others.
  • TikiBarTV.com: high production value (cast, live action), popular content (sexy, fun), first mover (started in early 2005 with podcasts). Could have regular release schedules (ability to produce regularly diminished), need more revenue streams.
  • FrenchmaidTV.com: popular content (informative and sexy), sponsored episodes (only make episodes when making money), very high production value. Sponsorship is a dual-edged sword (credibility, skepticism).
  • Lonelygirl15: broke through into national zeitgeist (cultural phenomenon), prolific (constant stream of episodes), powerful narrative, pushed medium of Web cam stories (single camera film work). Could have increased and maintained audience trust (their secret was uncovered through Google), needed revenue streams (only had one product placement).
  • Ask a Ninja: experimented with multiple revenue streams. Had to give up some control to make better deals: hired lawyers and business help. Integrated ad format at beginning and toward end of show. Fairly consistent release schedule. Merchandising DVD and t-shirts.
  • Fans accused group of selling out when added advertising but selling out is giving up creative control.
  • Ask a Ninja could: have better production value (small leaps forward in quality), more diversified creativity (to grow new audiences), balance show & business better, launch more community functionality (let people communicate more).
  • Have to focus more on developing business now because advertisers don’t know enough about the online video medium yet.
  • Secrets of Ninja: compelling content (what makes the creator’s laugh), fan-friendly (never left core idea), community friendly (share what we do and why), consistent (keep people coming back), brand protective (sign releases, run deals through lawyer).
  • Prom Queen: from Michael Eisner’s company. Combines longer narrative arc (80 episodes, 30 seconds), 3-4 second pre-roll, single sponsor, licensing content, very consistent release schedule.
  • Future: Give up your independent film dream & focus on serial content, not VC based (creativity first), a universe of million of channels (anyone can create a channel through RSS).