TV Writers Decamp to the Web

Ad-Supported Strike.TV Looks for Integrations, Partners With Mother

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LOS ANGELES ( -- As Hollywood braces for an actors strike, an entrepreneurial band of screenwriters idled by last year's writers strike is launching Strike.TV -- an ad-supported web-video venture that allows creators to retain ownership of their series.

"We wanted to launch on Independence Day because of the metaphorical implications of that day," said Peter Hyoguchi, CEO of Strike.TV and a former writer/director himself. He added: "It's about striking out on your own; we have nothing to do with the actors and their [labor troubles]."

Despite the awkward timing of the actors' unpleasant stalemate with producers, Mr. Hyoguchi said Strike.TV is designed to "provide the studios with a risk-free testing ground" that will allow web series to build audiences before potentially transferring to TV -- "just like comic books build an audience for film studios at a very low upfront cost," he said.

Dramatically lower digital-video-production costs -- an HD camera now runs only $3,500, and Final Cut Pro a mere $500 -- mean that writers are able to shoot and edit their own material, then distribute it on the ad-supported service.

Integrations welcome
Mr. Hyoguchi declined to identify which sponsors were backing Strike.TV, saying only that he was in negotiations with "major companies" for both sponsorships that would run throughout the entire site, as well as sponsorship of individual shows.

He did say that Strike.TV had formed a strategic partnership with New York-based ad agency Mother, home to brands such as Target and Dell. He also said that unlike the Writers Guild of America, which sent a fiery letter to the Federal Communications Commission last week decrying the use of product integration, his venture will actively court brands "for integrations of specific, major products to be inserted into story lines."

Steven de Souza, a screenwriter launching a new series on Strike.TV called "Unknown Sender" but best-known for penning action films such as "Die Hard," "48 Hours" and "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life," was more candid: He told Advertising Age that the beta version of Strike.TV already had ads for Coca-Cola's Coke Zero and Disney-Pixar's new film, "Wall-E," and that other major brands likely would follow, especially in the event of an actors strike.

"In a bizarre way, at the risk of sounding like a McCain adviser -- you know, 'A disaster would be great for us' -- another work stoppage would have all this talent a phone call away," said Mr. De Souza.

For now, Strike.TV isn't lacking writing talent. It has amassed some 40 completed, self-financed series from its stable of writers, most of them established: Tom Holland, creator of the "Chucky" series of horror films, will debut his new horror film on the site. Chuck Sheets, a director of "The Simpsons," has created an animated pilot for the site. It will also feature work from Ken LaZebnik, the supervising producer of "Star Trek: Enterprise" and a writer of Robert Altman's 2006 film, "A Prairie Home Companion."

Intellectual property
Lester Lewis, a writer on NBC's "The Office," has created a show for Strike.TV called "House Poor" that stars Mindy Kaling, herself both a co-star of "The Office" (as Dunder-Mifflin's customer-service rep, Kelly Kapoor) and also a writer for the NBC show.

"Essentially, we're a network like any other," said Mr. Hyoguchi. "The only difference is that their writers keep the intellectual property."

That idea isn't completely farfetched: Last May, the CW outsourced its entire Sunday night prime-time lineup to Media Rights Capital, an independent film, TV and video studio, in a first-of-its-kind time buy. (However, Dawn Ostroff, the CW's entertainment president, will retain final approval of the shows that air.)

"TV has to appeal to such a mass audience to make its money back," said Mr. Hyoguchi. "We don't have to. But we hope to create brands that do."

So if the writers strike represents the first time American TV viewers went grazing online in search of a product not yet there, Strike.TV represents the first time a large group of writers went to meet them. Said Mr. Hyoguchi: "This is the first time in history that Hollywood has gone online, en masse."
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