By Liz Shannon Miller
Before the rise of digital content, life for creators was a lot more simple but a lot harder: If you wanted to tell stories in a visual medium, your only real option was to head to Los Angeles or New York and work your way up the traditional industry’s ranks — and maybe, just maybe, lucking into a job making television or film.
Now, of course, the options are a lot more wide-ranging, but the path to success is much less clear. And television, meanwhile, hasn’t gone anywhere — it’s still a tempting option for creators. But is it the ultimate goal for producers?
The answer is no for Believe Entertainment Group co-founder Dan Goodman, who is happy working in the digital space, producing series like “The LeBrons” and “In the Booth” (featuring DJ Tiesto). “Trying to be flexible and minimal is the spirit of what we think digital business is all about,” he said via phone.
That flexibility means that Believe can target its programming — and where that programming can be seen — in a very specific fashion. “It comes down to the audience that we’re going after and working backwards from that,” Goodman said. “We start with audiences that we think are very active and sought after and where we can fill a gap, then we have the opportunity to take it anywhere we want.”
This is why “The LeBrons” currently runs on Xbox, while “In the Booth” was distributed on YouTube. “We don’t place any bets, and try to partner with all the biggest players out there,” he added.
For the past few years, Funny or Die has worked to expand its brand to television — currently, it has several original series airing on Comedy Central (“@Midnight”), FuseTV (“Billy on the Street”), IFC (“The Spoils of Babylon”), and elsewhere.
However, television is just one outlet, and is not the core of its business — that, according to FOD president of production Mike Farah, is still the website and mobile site, and the short-form videos hosted there.
And there are advantages to staying in the digital world. “Things in Hollywood move way slower than they should,” Farah said in a sit-down interview at the Funny or Die offices. That, plus the audience Funny or Die has built online, keep the company invested in both sides of the equation.
That audience loyalty is something YouTube director of content partnerships Malik Ducard has observed as well. “Regardless of where you’re creating your fanbase — there’s always going to be that loyalty to where the fanbase is created and developed,” he said via phone.
But that doesn’t mean exploring television isn’t a bad idea. “I’d say that it goes back to the creator,” Ducard said. “We’ve got great creators who started on television who are expanding with the platform, and we’re proud of that. There are also creators who have created fanbases and expanded to television — we’re proud of that and supportive of that. We don’t see it as either/or — we see it as an ‘and.’”
And as Goodman pointed out, the rise of smart TVs is changing the game — if the point is to be able to watch something on your television, there are no shortage of ways to bring content to the big screen. “The smart/connected TV conversation really drives the prominence of digital content. There’s a lot of conversation around mobile devices, but the real profile of shifting comes from TV,” he said. “A lot of that focus becomes about watching behavior — television will be a lot more than a cable plugged into the back.”
Does that mean we’re headed for what Farah referred to as a world of content “smushed together”? Perhaps, but that day is still pretty far away.
Because of course, there’s one factor that makes television an attractive prospect — getting paid. “People make a lot of money with those structures in place,” Farah said.
“It would be nice to have a hit TV show and syndication money,” Goodman said. “But the path to doing that in the traditional world is fundamentally different from our process.”
However, as the business models become more stable, digital content remains a viable option for producers — and potentially a lot more rewarding than airing on NBC.