Nine Ways To Fund Your Web TV Show
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Nine Ways To Fund Your Web TV Show

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A guide for digital producers looking for proven ways to fund their projects. Links to pioneering, international Web series. From the Futurescape.TV blog and shared under a Creative Commons licence.

A guide for digital producers looking for proven ways to fund their projects. Links to pioneering, international Web series. From the Futurescape.TV blog and shared under a Creative Commons licence.

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  • 1. Nine ways to fund your Web show The complete series from the Futurescape online media blog in one easy-to-share PDF With links to international Web series www.futurescape.tv This text is licensed under a Creative Commons licence that allows free sharing and adaptation, provided Futurescape is attributed. If you have any questions about Futurescape or issues affecting online media, please contact: editor@futurescape.tv Text licensed Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial www.futurescape.tv
  • 2. Nine ways to fund your Web show – from Futurescape.TV Are you finding it challenging to attract funding for your next online production? Chances are that the answer is yes. The tough economic climate is one reason, as potential advertisers and sponsors may have second thoughts about whether to back your show. Innovation can itself also raise barriers. Arguably, the more original the project, the harder it may be to secure funding. A production's novel features may increase uncertainly about how it will be created, distributed and received by the online audience. However, there are solutions. We believe that producers secure funding because they approach Web shows as a new medium with fresh commercial as well as creative opportunities. They've freed themselves - and their productions - from the constraints of pitching to a broadcaster, where a programme is typically aimed at a particular slot and demographic. From Futurescape's international research into new creative and commercial models for Web series, we have identified nine funding approaches with proven effectiveness: 1) Solve a problem for the funder 2) Incorporate an industry that can be a sponsor - and attract even more sponsors 3) Match characters, themes and storylines with the funder's market 4) Match the show with the funding source's strategy 5) Match the format with the funding source's strategy 6) Gain in-company incubation and support in kind 7) Extend the production with new opportunities for others 8) Look ahead to show and format sales 9) P2P financing 1) Solve a problem for the funder In October 2008, Bebo Director of Digital Content Dan'l Hewitt admitted to a serious challenge. Bebo's successful original shows, such as KateModern, still gained just a tiny amount of overall video viewing on Bebo. quot;The embarrassing thing is that we did a lot of research and spoke to hundreds and hundreds of Bebo users. None of them had even heard of KateModern, although the numbers [for the show] are incredible. quot;We had over 70 million views of the show over 10 months. But if you do a billion streams a month, those 70 million views, as happy as the advertisers were [with them], it doesn't really dent the overall consumption that's going on on Bebo.quot; (Hewitt, at the Hello Digital festival.) Text licensed Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial www.futurescape.tv
  • 3. There was a clear requirement for a way of encouraging Bebo members to view the original series. But what could take on the role of a TV channel's promos? The show that solved the problem launched in January 2009. B-Box is a weekly six- minute entertainment magazine programme. It showcases Bebo's own productions, in the context of pop culture coverage (band and red carpet interviews) and content from Bebo members. Crucially, production company RDF Digital had already established a relationship with Bebo through the multiplatform production A Message From Earth. This was a highly popular event that Beboers took part in during summer 2008. Hosts Alice Levine and James Cooper also appeared on the show, so may bring fans with them. B-Box is sponsored by the government anti-knife crime campaign It Doesn't Have to Happen and Cadbury Creme Egg (which previously sponsored KateModern, so this represents an acknowledgment from Cadbury of Bebo programmes' effectiveness). 2) Incorporate an industry that can be a sponsor - and attract even more sponsors Bebo's drama The Secret World Of Sam King is set in the music business. It has attracted sponsorship from the Universal Music label, which uses it to showcase new bands and lets the production shoot the series in Universal's offices Bebo has also brought in sponsorship from related sectors with a particular interest in music for their own consumers: mobile operator Virgin Mobile and handset manufacturer Sony Ericsson. And in March, music drama Rockville, CA will launch on TheWB.com. Conceived by Gossip Girl and The OC creator Josh Schwartz, this approaches the music business from a different angle, being set in a fictional LA club and filmed in a real one. The forthcoming British online music show Twenty Twenty looks to have similar potential. The world's first format developed specifically with a social media network in mind. A nationwide competition brings together twenty unrecorded bands and twenty first time film-makers to produce, shoot and edit a music video against the clock and with resources begged, borrowed and maybe even stolen from the social network subscribers. The prize? For the bands, a chance to open on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury 2009 and for the film makers, the chance to produce and direct a music video for a major label act. Based on a highly successful annual event held in Leeds, Twenty Twenty will run on a major UK social network for 14 weeks starting January 2009. But don't assume that the industry necessarily has to be as cool and trendy as the music biz. Some contrarian and creative thinking resulted in two series being sponsored by and shot in furniture retailers: Ikea for Easy To Assemble and DFS for Heart And Soul. And from a sponsor's point of view, why not look at the possibilities of setting the show in the product? Here's a comedy from Citroën, with a busy couple who are almost living in their C3 Picasso, Soyons Deraisonnables Text licensed Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial www.futurescape.tv
  • 4. 3) Match characters, themes and storylines with the funder's market Would your proposed show interest a company already involved in a particular market? Tempting Fates is a forthcoming campus-based black comedy which follows the misadventures of a new generation of the Three Fates as they return to college to learn and fulfil their ancient destinies. Part of the £180,000 budget comes from the show's own online distributor. The comedy is co-funded by distributor Inuk Networks, an IPTV provider that focuses on the student market via www.freewiretv.com, together with East of England regional media development agency Screen East and independent production company Eye Film And Television. This is a win-win for the Inuk and the producers. Inuk will have an original show ideally matched with its student customers, while the series should benefit enormously from the targeted distribution that Inuk provides. 4) Match the show with the funding source's strategy The £750,000 Central Station is set in the Glasgow School of Art and combines an online drama about three fictional students with a real-life Internet arts community to encourage artists from around the world to post their work online. The best will be rewarded with prizes including studio time and arts-based trips abroad, culminating in quot;the world's largest and first social media art prizequot; (see full description). The whole concept of the drama dovetails very well with the strategy of the Scottish Arts Council: promoting an international arts scene from Scotland. Not surprisingly, it reached the second stage of applying for £200,000 from the Scottish Arts Council's Inspire Fund. 5) Match the format with the funding source's strategy Central Station is also receiving support from Channel 4's 4iP fund for multiplatform content. The fund aims to create tools and services with a public benefit, so how does an art school drama fit in? The answer is that the format of the whole production - as distinct from the drama's storylines and characters – actually begins with the launch of the social network for artists, not the video. In this respect, the format fulfils the funding requirements for a useful service, as well as being an entertainment programme. Production companies should note that the 4iP definition of multiplatform does not particularly encourage indie television producers to apply. The company behind Central Station, ISO Design, has a background in motion graphics and AV installations for museums, rather than television. Text licensed Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial www.futurescape.tv
  • 5. 6) Gain in-company incubation and support in kind Some savvy production companies help staff make their own projects, appreciating the potential of a win-win for the employee and employer. The individual has an opportunity to improve their skills and the company benefits from increasingly skilled staff. Writer Ric Forster seized the opportunity of an in-house training scheme to launch his own Web series, LOL. It's an online drama which quot;explores the teenage world of sex, drugs and social network-fuelled peer pressurequot; and was shot last year on the sets of Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks via a talent development programme run by Hollyoaks production company Lime Pictures. Ric, who created and directed the series, explains: quot;LOL received assistance from Lime Pictures due to it being produced as part of their director training scheme. I'm currently an employee there working as a storyliner on Hollyoaks and the company has a scheme for nurturing new directing talent. I was given the opportunity to shoot a short over a weekend, with full use of all the sets and equipment. I'd written LOL before I was accepted onto the scheme, so tweaked some of the story and made it producible on site. quot;We shot on Sony HDC-1500 studio cameras, recording onto XDCAM HD decks and used a lot of lighting gear. On top of that, the company paid for sparks and covered some minor expenses. The production was also covered by the company insurance and we didn't need to pay any location fees as it was all shot on site. All in all, this probably contributed about £3,000 to the production. quot;I'm really grateful for Lime's help - LOL has much higher production values thanks to their assistance.quot; Ric is currently writing further episodes of LOL and developing Ghosts, a sci-fi Web series to be shot this summer. He concludes, quot;Web series like We Need Girlfriends and Sanctuary show that creating online content is a great way to build an audience and get your work noticed.quot; Similarly, BBC Scotland runs a three-person Innovations team. Its first commission is a multiplatform crime drama, Townsville, with a £12,000 budget. The 4 x 40 mins show will combine video, still photos and special effects, with most of the action taking place online, and premiere in Easter 2009. 7) Extend the production with new opportunities for others Tempting Fates is more than just a Web comedy – the production also incorporates a training course in online production: “The first ever course of its kind, taking talented students through the practical process of creating an online universe and helping produce a black comedy web series. Utilising your skills in social networking, creative writing, design and practical production you’ll have a chance to become part of a major production due for launch in October 2009.” As a training course, the show can lower production costs by employing students in a legitimate capacity, not just as cheap labour, within the team. The overall team includes online pioneers Lance Weiler at Red Eye Pictures and M Dot Strange, together with indie Eye Film and TV. Text licensed Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial www.futurescape.tv
  • 6. Note too that skills development is a key part of the remit of co-funder Screen East. Also, some of the series will be produced within a geographical area that qualifies for EU support. Meanwhile, several of the media development agencies are forging closer links with the digital production sector. South West Screen, for instance, has brought in Bebo Director of Digital Content Dan’l Hewitt as a board member. Are there other ways in which your show’s production can benefit third parties that would reciprocate with funding or other forms of support? 8) Look ahead to show and format sales This may or may not secure money upfront, but when a distributor supports a show in the international marketplace, it gives the production much increased credibility. The rights to Tempting Fates, for instance, were represented by digital formats and distribution specialist i-Rights even before production commenced. Finance may also be available in such deals. i-Rights provided funding at the development stage for Tempting Fates and at the production stage for Chelsey: OMG. In return, the company requires both an equity stake and distribution rights, and may also advise on exploitation and product integration. i-Rights also picks up distribution rights for completed shows. 9) P2P financing One radical model for financing a new production is to take it out to the audience who might want to see it. This P2P approach is being pioneered in music, film – and online TV. Music sites such as Sellaband invite music fans to buys shares in forthcoming albums by new bands in return for a share of any profits. In film, A Swarm Of Angels is a project to crowdsource the financing of an open source feature film, together with a participatory filmmaking community. It is supported by sci- fi writer Cory Doctorow and graphic novelist Warren Ellis. Felicia Day, who starred in Buffy, turned to the audience for her own Web comedy The Guild when the production needed more funding to make new episodes. With viewer contributions, the series was able to complete its first season and, with DVD sales, embark on season two, when it attracted sponsorship and distribution from Microsoft. Text licensed Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial www.futurescape.tv