Please stop teasing me with the tantalizing promise of ever seeing work from top writers, directors and actors created directly for the web.
For years now, the above note could be said to neatly sum up the feelings of the creative community that is Tinseltown. For top talent, the web was a place to fool around, not cash in.
This week, one of Hollywood's top digital agents looked to help Tinseltown cash in on the web: United Talent Agency digital head Brent Weinstein is leaving the shop that represents movie stars such as Vince Vaughn and Johnny Depp to become the CEO of 60Frames Entertainment, a new company dedicated to handling the financing, ad sales and syndication of "professionally produced online content." The company, in other words, will help established movie and film talent create content specifically for the web.
Spot Runner involved
The 60Frames venture is backed by $3.5 million in institutional and individual investors, including Tudor Investment Corp. and the Pilot Group, the latter of which was co-founded by former AOL Chairman Bob Pittman. The new venture has also got the support of the Los Angeles-based online-ad agency Spot Runner, which will handle ad sales for the company's projects. (CBS Corp., along with WPP Group and Interpublic Group of Cos., also have investments in Spot Runner.)
"We wanted to make it so that artists who are busy with film and TV careers can get in and get out, easily," said Mr. Weinstein, adding that "it shouldn't be as hard to make an internet deal as it is to make a film or TV deal."
Mr. Weinstein touts 60Frames as providing content creators with "speed to market" -- an alacrity that comes in part from its being "distribution agnostic," or willing to syndicate its content through "top video portals, social-network websites, mobile and emerging broadband outlets."
Of course, whether those outlets will be willing to deal with a company that gives artists greater ownership over their intellectual property (as well as participation in revenue streams like advertising) is an open question. But if major stars can be persuaded to fool around online for fun and profit, 60Frames may well be a potent force for change in Hollywood.
The union question
Also unclear is how Hollywood's labor unions will react. Efforts by the Screen Actors Guild and Hollywood's agents to salvage a six-decade-old master franchise agreement fell short in 2002, meaning that agencies could potentially invest in production companies -- previously a verboten practice for agents. (United Talent Agency, for its part, declined to disclose its exact stake in the new venture, and was careful to call 60Frames a "financing entity" and not a production company.)
As to its immediate plans, Mr. Weinstein is circumspect, saying only that the venture will initially focus on short-form comedic productions, and that 60Frames will announce partnerships with portals and advertisers in the weeks to come. Comedy has long been United Talent Agency's strong suit, representing top comedic actors such as Martin Lawrence and powerhouse writer-directors like Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up," "The 40 Year Old Virgin.")
UTA clients Joel and Ethan Coen ("Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" "Fargo") will be the first talent to have content syndicated via 60Frames.
But for advertisers, the appeal of letting the professional funny men tell the jokes is obvious.
"Many of Spot Runner's clients want to participate in online entertainment but are not comfortable with the brand risks associated with user-generated content," said Nick Grouf, CEO of Spot Runner. "60Frames provides companies with an ideal way to connect with their customers through original, top-notch content created by leading Hollywood talent."