While the WB Network's mascot, Michigan J. Frog, may be history, Mr. Levin, its former CEO, has spent the past two years busily puckering up to web content he hopes will morph into bigger, better things.
This week, he got a case of lip balm: Generate, the digital-production studio and talent-management firm Mr. Levin co-founded, secured $6 million in its first round of financing. Among the luminary investors are Velocity Interactive Group, the digital-media investment firm headed by former Fox Interactive President Ross Levinsohn and former AOL Chairman-CEO Jonathan Miller, as well as MK Capital's Mark Terbeek.
Less risk online
Of course, that kind of capital barely buys you a half dozen TV pilots nowadays, half of which might die on the vine. But then again, that's why Mr. Levin decided to get out of TV and into the web. He says such minimal investment can be used to hatch dozens of potential new series online, often developed in direct partnership with sponsors.
"Even the biggest advertisers want efficiency over reach," Mr. Levin said, adding: "Brands have a very strong understanding of their audience. So if you understand the voice of a creator and match the right talent with the right brand, you create a relatively seamless marriage, because you've got tailored content that connects with a very specific audience."
Getting that talent to play ball is somewhat easier because the venture is also a management company. Its clients include TV veterans such as Patton Oswalt, Janeane Garofalo, Fred Savage, Al Madrigal and Adam Rifkin, among others.
Generate last year leveraged its stable of management clients into a comedy tour for apparel retailer American Eagle Outfitters. The comedy tour yielded content that exposed American Eagle on college campuses and fed content to its website as well as its in-store programming.
Mr. Levin said regardless of whether Generate's content is branded entertainment or merely new content, his plan is to use "the web as a cost-effective place to develop, test and incubate ideas that have potential for other revenue-generating platforms."
Generate management client Trevor Moore, for example, was just an intern on "Saturday Night Live" a few years ago. Now his sketch show, "Whitest Kids U' Know" is entering its second season on IFC.
"I also had this idea for a 'Rat Pack'-inspired comedy show," Mr. Moore said, "but in a pitch, it was hard to show what I was going for. So the Generate guys were like, 'You should have a video to show [the buyers].' And they got us what we needed to make one."
The resultant video "pre-pilot" did more than help Mr. Moore explain himself; it also nailed down a web-series deal with Super Deluxe, TNT's comedy website. That series will be Mr. Moore's next effort, after his new comedy, "Playboys," is released in theaters by Fox Atomic later this year.
"It seems like all the networks are using the web as a proving ground to see who gets to go to the next level," Mr. Moore said. "It's the natural progression."