If you're a program producer, you've never had more options to get the program you want to do on the air. There's broadcast and cable networks, digital subcarrier channels running on both broadcast and cable, video-on-demand, 3D networks, syndication, and online video services which, thanks to smart TVs, more people appear to be catching on those TVs than on their computers.
Next year, add Netflix, Hulu and Amazon to that stew.
Meantime, there hasn't been much expansion in the ways programs get financed before they get picked up somewhere. In part, that's because some organizations certaintly with the treasury to work deals--venture capitalists, angel investors and the growing number of incubator/accelerator firms--remain on the sidelines with this aspect of TV. Just as they remain apathetic over involvement with other aspects from new networks to advanced technology and interactive TV applications.
Into this environment, be advised of the existence of crowdfunding, a vehicle that offers the possibility to be a fundamental new way to get TV series financed. And at the same time, put you, member of the public, in the thick of the launch effort with your cash.
In just the last year or so, crowdfunding has opened up the ballgame for hundreds of projects to fly, including films and online video series, via Kickstarter, Indie GoGo and other web sites.
Under the rules of this game, a venture posted on Kickstarter or elsewhere gets up to 60 days to attract X dollars from the public. When the time's up, if the goal is reached or exceeded, the venture collects that money. If not, no deal and any money raised stays with the crowd. To this point, millions of dollars have been raised under Kickstarter and other online crowdfunding showcases.
In the TV arena this year, crowdfunding has worked for some efforts, not for others. Mobcaster, the Kickstarter-modeled site focusing on TV pilot and series work, headed by former HBO executive Aubrey Levy, has raised more than $200,000 for its users. The Weatherman, a comedy pilot contender at the 2010 New York Television Festival, is about to get a series introduction. Two months ago,DTLA, a drama earning $30,000 through Kickstarter, debuted on Logo as the first scripted series on both U.S. and Canadian television networks with crowdfunding money. The series completed its run earlier this month, with Logo yet to decide on a second round of episodes.
On the negative side, there'sSawdust, a proposed 3D family-friendly drama of circus life in 1930's Texas. Out to raise $100,000 via Kickstarter, the pilot effort didn't come close to raising 10 percent of its goal by deadline. Sawdust's organizers will have to try other means for bringing their series to life.
Which brings us to a new development that may push crowdfunding further into the TV hemisphere. EarlyShares, a company with such experience in other industries, wants to mainstream the process with TV and other entertainment ventures. They specialize in equity crowdfunding, where for the money, contributors get an ongoing investment in what they fund. The company is now working with 5X5 Media, the producers of Fashion Staron NBC and King of The Nerds on TBS (launching early next month), to attract investment for individual series in this manner. (Disclosure point: we'll have executives from both companies on Tomorrow Will Be Televised this Friday, and reaction from a crowdfunding analyst.)
EarlyShares makes it clear the 5X5 Media arrangement represents their starting point for TV activity. Will more such players jump in? Maybe, in part motivated by Federal legislation passed this spring that encourages start-up crowdfunding. Full adoption of this measure is expected next year.
Or maybe not if somehow, abuses surface and consumers who put their financial trust on the line get hurt.
All the more incentive why, for all the promise crowdfunding holds among an expanding world of series creators, dialogue on the subject must be loud and extensive among the public, in every forum possible. Raise the pitfalls along with the promise, so if you get involved, you know how to play with a clear head.
Yes, it's a great time for crowdfunding to come along. Also a great time to do what's necessary and insure no one mucks up such promising works.
Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!
Simon Applebaum is host/producer ofTomorrow Will Be Televised, the Internet radio-distributed program all about TV, running live Mondays and Fridays on BlogTalk Radio--and soon to premiere as a weekly series on the new UBC-TV (UB for Urban Broadcasting) network. Replays of recent episodes are available at www.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04. Have a question or comment? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org, or the new Twitter hashtag @UBCSimonTWBT.
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