Web Incubation: How Fox and Machinima Want to Find Great Stories

/ Jul 19, 2013

Courtesy of WIGSCO, LLC

One of the early ways we defined success for web content is this: can it escape the web? Shows like “The Annoying Orange” and “Fred” have become iconic for the way they evolved from being YouTube hits to cable ratings winners — making the leap to television and finding whole new audiences.

“Annoying Orange” and “Fred” were special cases, pioneers — but as the web becomes less ghettoized, using online platforms for developing and incubating original content is taking on a more formal nature.

Fox has taken this approach, for example, in an initiative headed up by senior vice president of multi-platform programming Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, who described what he defined as “mini-studios” with a fair amount of autonomy.

“We’re trying to be fairly hands-off with the studios we’re setting up — we have a very light touch and want to reduce the interference,” Van Rensselaer said. “We’re allowing those creators to come up with their own slate — so it’s a little bit less of a disciplined effort to fit content into a specific direction.”

These studios include female-aimed YouTube drama channel WIGS, which recently made the leap from YouTube to Hulu, and ADHD, which has grown from animated shorts posted online to a regular Saturday night block of programming. Van Rensselaer hopes that by the end of the fiscal year, Fox will have launched five micro-studios in total.

“The idea is to create a lot of great content and tell stories — it would be a big success if someday a WIGS series ends up on Fox, or in another linear TV arrangement that’s not Fox,” Van Rensselaer said. “What I’m excited about is that digital media can allow you to more cost-effectively experiment with concepts and experiments.”

Meanwhile, Machinima is teaming with director Ridley Scott to develop a series of 12 sci-fi shorts — the idea being that these shorts could springboard into bigger projects.

Machinima’s approach to developing these shorts is very specific: “It really needs to represent a very expansive world, with a heightened reality,” Machinima executive vice president of network programming Aaron DeBevoise said via phone. “In 11 minutes, we have to establish the character, the world — something that could last 50 episodes, then become a game or a TV series.”

As a result, these 11-minute shorts require a huge amount of world-building and development — in fact, DeBevoise said that “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” director Kevin Tancharoen, in developing his next short, wrote a 90-minute version of the project first, then the 11-minute version.

Other keys he mentioned: making sure the short is also visually appealing, and not dialogue-heavy because “it won’t do very well globally.”

At the heart of all these strategies is thinking about content on a multi-platform level, divorcing the medium from the story.

Using the web to incubate projects on an individual basis makes it possible for great ideas to find their voices, and, ideally, could benefit the entire entertainment ecosystem, from the networks looking to develop new projects to viewers looking for something, well, entertaining.

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