While more and more traditional TV providers are looking for ways to get a foothold in the streaming video space, digital-native producers are still eager to make the jump to linear TV, where the bucks are bigger and the spotlight is brighter.
BiteSizeTV founder and CEO Ron Bloom is one of those who have made the leap. His entertainment magazine show “Hollywood Today Live” debuted online in November 2013. In the summer of 2014, it scored a six-week test run as a daily, syndicated, one-hour show airing on Fox-owned television stations in nine markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Charlotte. This fall, it returned with a full season order from Fox and a much larger distribution footprint.
Featuring a diverse quintet of young hosts, “Hollywood Today Live” offers of mix of in-studio chats with Hollywood players, red carpet coverage, live remotes and behind-the-scene set visits. Recent guests have included everyone from “Wicked City” star Jeremy Sisto to ventriloquist and “America’s Got Talent” winner Paul Zerdin.
VideoInk spoke with Bloom about the show’s genesis, future programming plans and the downside of looking TV pretty in the rough-around-the edges online video space.
How did you come to open up a studio at Hollywood & Vine? Although it’s an iconic location in show business lore, it hasn’t been a production hub since the heyday of radio.
Since digital was virtual, we wondered what would it be like for digital to have a physical address. My thought was that it would have to be in a metropolitan area and it would need to be iconic. So I came up with this idea of the internet coming to you from Hollywood & Vine. We had an office up in San Francisco, and we came down here to Los Angeles and I sat on the corner and I looked around, and there was a big empty building a block away on the ground floor of the W Hotel. It had glass sides, and it was right on the Walk of Fame and it had a ‘for lease’ sign. It turned out the building was controlled by the W owners and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and no one could get in there. It was an empty shell. I had to negotiate with both groups to get the right to take the space, and we spent about a year and a half building a full-on digital studio with glass that overlooked the corner of Hollywood & Vine.
Once you had the studio, how did you come up with the concept for “Hollywood Live Today”?
The idea was to produce a full line-up of programming as if we were a network, producing 100% of our own programming. Not to be YouTube stars, but to really make a television-quality episodic pop culture content. We piloted probably 30–40 shows over six months, creating some 2000–3000 segments out of that studio starting in December 2013. The first show we piloted was “Hollywood Today Live.” We wanted it to be different than the talking head news shows and be something where the hosts would eventually be as entertaining as the stories themselves. We probably went through 100 different hosts trying to find the right chemistry and cultural and attitude mix.
From the beginning, “Hollywood Today Live” looked slick and TV-ready. But that doesn’t always play well on YouTube. How did you guys do online?
We put our segments up on YouTube, and some would do a thousand views and some would do 50,000, but we never attempted to adhere to the MCN philosophy. The creativity to drive YouTube is very unique, and we didn’t want to pretend that we were expert at that. While we were producing our show, which maybe had a smaller digital viewership than they had, many of those YouTube celebrities and their managers and agents were coming around the back, asking us how to develop YouTube artists for television. Many YouTube acting and production talents dream of being involved in film and television because they’re creative people, not just YouTube creative people.
In 2014, BiteSizeTV was acquired Media General, which owns 71 television stations, as well as digital properties, and, needless to say, has a lot of resources. But you launched the studio while you were still an independent. How did you pay for it?
I had raised capital and invested my own money. And we had built a digital platform that had done a very good job of generating its own traffic and really put some money into the bank that enabled us to transition. We were producing content up in San Francisco, and the technical platform was great, but the content resources weren’t. I thought, let’s go down to Hollywood where you have the content equivalent of the genius engineers you have in Silicon Valley. During this time, the cost of cameras and lighting was coming down, and we were able to surround ourselves with talent that was willing to work cost-efficiently, particularly a couple of high-level people, then train a bunch of enthusiastic young people.
What other shows do you currently have in development?
Development is kind of interesting because now we’re part of Media General’s family, and Media General recently announced a pending merger with Meredith Communications. And they also brought in a head of programming [Tony Optican, in August]. If you look at the content we’ve already produced, you can see a broad range of capabilities and you can put your imagination to work to what might come down the food chain.
Do you have a general content philosophy?
When someone has a great content idea, there’s so much friction in getting it to the market just to find out if it’s any good. You’re left with this big divide between people who can do it themselves, YouTube people, and people who are genius writers and great actors who can’t put together the funding. They have to wait for the Hollywood system to fund them. So that sweet spot is where I try to focus, where it’s possible for content to get its day in court without asking for permission.