Category Archives: Entertainment

Reinventing TV For the Digital Age: Multichannel Networks

O2L (Our Second Life), a group of young, male YouTubers each with over a million subscribers to their individual channels sold out of $75 VIP tickets to their 17 city  tour sold out in ten minutes. 

In the past decade, a certain type of grassroots creativity has emerged on YouTube and other video platforms. Time magazine once celebrated YouTube for having provided so many amateur creators with the tools to “broadcast themselves.”

YouTube’s creator-partner system and their infusion of $200M in their original channel initiative contributed to the increased commercialization of this democratic space, for better or for worse.

Recognizing an opportunity to advance a new culture industry, a group of web-based, tech-savvy, para-industrial start-ups have emerged with distinctive approaches to monetizing YouTube’s 100 million hours of video uploaded every minute to its billion unique monthly users. They are the multi-channel networks (MCNs), also known as YouTube networks, online video studios, and simply networks. Among the big three are Fullscreen, Machinima, and Maker Studios. “YouTube is all about audience development. It’s about how many subscribers can you get on your channel so you can monetize it. These creators are little television affiliates,” says Larry Shapiro, head of talent at Fullscreen.

Multichannel networks have aggregated thousands of YouTube creators in order to amass tens of thousands of online users. Most MCNs pursued this new business model shortly after YouTube started investing $100 million to augment the production budgets of a hundred or so YouTube talent partners.

“On YouTube, you have super-targeted channels that would never exist in a television model, and that they have super-high engagement,” says Machinima chairman, CEO and founder, Allen Debevoise. “MCNs aggregate these particular channels across different categories. From a monetization perspective, you have a large com score number, you have a large nielsen number, but you have high engagement, which is very unique.”

To serve this growing group of YouTubers with significant user counts, the MCNs inserted themselves as business allies, taking a percentage of the advertising dollars offered by YouTube and up to 50% of the IP, in exchange for providing amateur creators with these added services.

Some find these relationships troubling. Thousands of YouTube creators have signed contracts with most earning little or no profits for their considerable efforts; in contrast, the small handful of creators, who have been able to secure a living despite YouTube’s restrictive terms, are resentful of the MCNs for profiting from their creative labor.

YouTube/Google are eager to work with MCNs because they help amass a large online audience and their consumer information is shared with advertisers as “big data.” As it turns out, there is a big demand for big data in Hollywood.

The more traditional Hollywood companies don’t always immediately understand the benefit of the YouTube audience, but when it gets broken down for them, it clicks. Shapiro recalls a conversation with a TV exec that illustrates this point: “In television they talk about L3s and L7s, so when I was talking to a network exec about devinsupertramp and he said, ‘I just don’t understand these views, I get it but I don’t see how it’s important for television.’ I say, ‘I’ll tell you what. On an L7, devinsupertramp will reach a million people between the ages of 17 and 25 every week.’ And it clicks for him—‘that’s like a 1 share. Can I meet him?’

devinsupertramp’s channel has more than 400 million views.

Several Hollywood media companies have recently recognized their inability to access YouTube’s growing audience of online users, and MCNs are their perfect way in. Notably, Disney recently acquired Maker Studios for $500 million, while Warner Bros. continues to kick the tires at Machinima.

For Shapiro, this isn’t surprising, and it signals the strength and wisdom of this new generation of creators, and, regardless of the controversy surrounding them, the MCNs as well. “That’s the importance of a devinsupertramp or a lohanthony or an O2L, or some of the mine craft creators on Machinima,” says Shapiro. “They’re tapping into our emotional connection to entertainment now, and they’re going to shape it down the road.”

View the rest of Transforming Hollywood 5 panel “Creators Who are Reinventing TV for the Digital Future” below, or by heading to our Vimeo page.

UCLA Producers Program Faculty Member Transforms Television With New Series

Tonight, a new comedy premieres on CW that demonstrates the changing nature of the business of television. Leading the charge is Maggie Murphy, head of the US division of the Canadian production company Shaftesbury, and one of the UCLA Producers Program’s own faculty members. Backpackers follows two twenty-something best friends, Ryan and Brandon, as they race across Europe in search of Ryan’s fiancé, while trying to figure out who they are and what they want to become of their lives.

The idea for Backpackers came from Jay Bennet, Vice President Digital/Creative Director of Smokebomb Entertainment, the digital arm of Shaftesbury. Murphy came on board to help develop the idea internally and planned a new strategy to pitch the show. “Visual sales tools are becoming more and more important in the industry,” says Murphy. “Before they move forward, buyers really want to know what the show will look and feel like.” So for Backpackers, she and her team hired a writer, a small cast and a skeleton crew. They all hopped in a van and drove around Europe for a few days and shot about ten minutes that effectively conveyed what the show was about, as well as the humor of the show.

”We didn’t even pitch it, which is unusual,” recalls Maggie. Instead, they shopped their presentation around to a few networks and immediately received interest from CW. Maggie and her team sold it to CW for their digital-only network, CW Seed, and they got funding from the CW to go into production. Additional financing came from pre-selling the concept to the Canadian network CTV, as well as Canadian tax incentives. Backpackers lived online among several other digital-only comedy series from CW and, to date, is the first and only digital series to be picked up by the network for broadcast.

It’s not surprising that Shaftesbury is bringing a new strategy to TV in the US—the Canadian company is used to a very different modus operandi. “In Canada, they go straight to series, they don’t shoot a pilot. And the same in the international world,” says Murphy. This trend has of course made its way to the states with places like HBO and Netflix giving straight-to-series orders, but even broadcast nets like Fox are giving this model a shot as well. Murphy has seen more and more traditional networks foregoing the traditional pilot order. “I have a series that just had five more scripts ordered, but no pick-up,” says Murphy. She believes it makes good economic sense: “Instead of shooting that pilot that is seven to ten million dollars, and then seeing it’s not good, why not pay half a million for scripts and see what you’ve got.”

Murphy and Shaftesbury are so eager to see up-and-coming creators adopt innovative practices such as these that they recently announced a multi-year gift to benefit the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s Producers Program, a highly selective, two-year MFA degree. The gift will allow Shaftesbury production executives to help producing students create and develop television and digital projects, and then provide the necessary resources to complete them. The partnership will also create opportunities for Producers Program students to network with Shaftesbury’s network of top-tier industry experts.

Denise Mann, head of the Producers Program and co-head of Transforming Hollywood, is “thrilled [by the] generous donation.” “With the help of Ms. Murphy and our other key television creators, executives, producers and cutting-edge media scholars teaching in the UCLA TFT Producers Program, the department has been able to be responsive to the renaissance taking place in the television industry,” says Mann.

Murphy intends for the gift to help students create important products that are essential to selling TV series today. “People have less money and they want to have as much insurance as possible,” Murphy explains. “It’s important to be able to go to potential buyers with a clear idea of what the series is and where it goes, and we’ll be able to get these students in a position where they’re ready to be a part of the transformations taking place in Hollywood today.”

Creating in the Digital Age: A Q&A with Brad Bell


In the digital age, there are many paths to creating great content. On the web, creators have the autonomy to write and produce what they want, when they want, and with whomever they choose. This openness has allowed for characters whose stories we might have otherwise missed.

One of the pioneers of this method of storytelling is Brad Bell, the creator of the YouTube personality “Cheeks”—a character he later developed into the web series Husbands with prolific TV producer Jane Espensen. We chatted with Brad (he’s a real smartypants) ahead of his visit to TH5 on April 4 for our panel, “Indie TV: Where Creators and Fans Pilot New Shows.”

What inspired you to take Cheeks and develop a series for him outside the traditional model? What was that process like?

Cheeks was initially a satirical vehicle to express whatever pop culture commentary that struck me. Basically, it was the only conscious through line of my varied creative experiments. But the more I wrote and performed as Cheeks, a fully formed character took shape and, before long, it felt like Cheeks needed to go beyond the confines of the YouTube video window. Then, when Jane and I were first brainstorming Husbands, we envisioned an Odd Couple dynamic, so it just made sense for (and I’m mixing my sitcom analogies, here) Cheeks to be the Dharma to Brady’s Greg.

As far as making Husbands outside of the traditional model, I’ve never been much of a traditionalist. (Shocking, right?) My favorite sitcoms are those which use humor to challenge the status quo, and have discussions about gender politics or double standards or social mores. Shows like All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Soap, and South Park. Even I Love Lucy was more subversive than you might realize. (See Episode 36, “Job Switching.”) We wanted to continue that tradition of TV with Husbands, and that style of comedy requires a very precise ratio of camp/realism, silly/cerebral, candy/commentary. Ultimately, I guess Jane and I just trusted ourselves more than anyone else to get that recipe right, and make exactly the kind of show we’d want to watch.

What were some benefits and challenges of forging a new path like you have done with Husbands?

That’s a perfect metaphor —”forging a new path”—to describe the challenges and benefits. Imagine you’re in the jungle, forging said path. You’re cutting vines and toiling for days, smoothing out the uneven Earth little by little. You’re exhausted and dirty, and to top it all off, the speed at which you’re traveling is tedious, because you can’t move forward until you make a path.

Now, compare that to the experience of just walking down an existing path in the jungle. Granted, it’s probable that this path has plenty of deadly predators, and maybe a thick fog that reduces your ability to see more than a few feet ahead, but the work to make the path has already been done. You can focus on putting one foot in front of the other, and give more attention to whatever’s making that rustling in the bushes. However, this path is limiting, because you can only go where it leads you. And sure, this path might be the most direct route to an oasis of unimaginable treasures! Or there might be a shorter route to the same oasis. Or an undiscovered (and even more unimaginable) oasis of treasures awaiting you at the end of a path that no one has yet forged!

Bottom line is, there are infinite possible benefits and challenges because there are an infinite number of possible paths. My strategy is to survey the paths that exist, and walk along them when/if it makes sense to do so. However, if the human bones littering the path start to pile up more as you walk along, be ready to jump into the overgrown forest floor and take your chances.

Do you hope to see Cheeks and Brady on more a traditional platform (i.e., as a series on a network), and if so, what does that say about the value that is still placed on certain platforms over others?

There’s so much to this question! To answer it fully, we need to clarify why there is a higher value placed on content that is perceived to be “legitimate television.” Oddly though, the standards by which people define television isn’t the platform. They just think it is.

For example, Orange is the New Black is a television show, right? I would say yes. But, by platform specifications, it’s a web-series. Why? Because it’s delivered via the Internet, either on your computer, tablet or set-tops boxes and smart TVs. Cable and broadcast (which have actually both been the same platform for years, digital) is a different platform than the one delivering Netflix or YouTube. That begs the question: if Netflix and YouTube are technically delivered by the same system, why is Netflix perceived as TV, while YouTube is a cesspool of skateboarding fails? The two primary reasons are visibility and length.

Let’s start with length. For seventy plus years, the TV viewing public has been fed content with a run time of twenty-two minutes or forty-four minutes, for comedy and drama respectively. TV seasons are anywhere from ten episodes to twenty two episodes—give or take a few, depending on the decade. Interestingly, most award shows (as well as creative unions) determine the classification and qualification of entries (or employment) based on minutes per episode, and the number of episodes produced per season. So, if you’re looking for an empirical answer to “What is television,” then length is your best qualifier.

Now, let’s talk perception. After all, perception determines reality, especially in Hollywood. This is where visibility comes into play. To find House of Cards, you don’t have to weed through endless “crazy card trick” videos on YouTube. It’s presented to you by Netflix on a nice sleek menu, likely on that screen in your living room, and exists among a selection of content you perceive as “real” television. (You’ll notice that, with new media, the goal of visibility has more to do with the psychology of marketing than it does driving viewership.) There are also forty-foot tall billboards for House of Cards, bus ads and fully immersive ads on website home pages. See, in this case, a multi-million dollar advertising budget classifies the content as “legitimate” and “important” in the eyes of the public. Throw in high-quality storytelling and A-List talent, and no one will even notice your show, technically, “isn’t television.”

But of course, it is television. The term web-series is irrelevant, because the platforms are irrelevant. It’s all television now. It’s just a matter of professional television versus amateur hour. The Internet is not “the future of television.” Neither are the two slowly merging. That’s already happened. It’s only the perception of the public that lags behind. My point in saying all this is, I would love to be able to produce Husbands in the volume and frequency that the audience wants, which would be an order of episodes along the lines of a traditional television season. However that happens, or whatever platform it might be on, is less relevant.

What was the impetus for a Husbands graphic novel? Were the things you wanted to do with the characters/world that you felt couldn’t be achieved through the series?

When we wrote the graphic novel, we’d ended the second season, and hadn’t yet met with The CW. There was uncertainty about whether we’d continue the series, so we thought a comic would be a fun way to continue the series in the meantime. Aside from the obvious things that would be too expensive to produce for the show, like exploding meteorites and spaceships, it also gave us a chance to explore familiar gender dynamics, and examine the ways in which those would change—or stay the same—when the roles were filled with two men.

What advice would you give to aspiring creators who would like to follow in your footsteps?

Besides, “Pick someone better to follow?” Hmm. I’d say, if you want to follow in my footsteps, study what I do. Then find a way to do it better.

Apart from Husbands, anything you can share about other projects you’re developing? More web series? Graphic novels? 

Eek! Tough question to answer because, yes, I’m developing a few projects, but nothing I can talk about yet, unfortunately. Although, while I’m really excited about what I’m working on during the present Husbands hiatus, what I’d most love to do next is make more Husbands. (For many, many years to come!)

You can watch Husbands on CW Seed.

Veronica Mars and the Case of the Fan-Funded Film

The story of how the movie Veronica Mars came to be is much like the episodes contained within the series itself—a clever protagonist must work outside the system to solve the problem of an untimely death.

In this case the protagonist is Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, the untimely death is the cancellation of the TV series at the hands of traditional Hollywood, and his tools employed include nearly every major component of the new entertainment landscape: high quality content, the power of a rabid fan base, the influence of silicon beach, and the impatience of the Internet.

As any good Marshmallow knows, the CW cancelled Veronica Mars 2007 due to poor ratings. Over the next few years, Thomas and Kristen Bell would attempt to push a Veronica Mars movie at Warner Bros. with the help of Joel Silver. But as late as 2010, the studio wasn’t interested enough to put their weight behind it.

“The idea that fans of a cult television series might be able to fund and support it over time has been floated for several decades,” says USC Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts and Transforming Hollywood 5 Co-Director Henry Jenkins. “Many of these shows lack the breadth of viewership which would sustain it through traditional broadcast channels, yet they have a depth of commitment which can be a powerful force when compared to the followings of other kinds of popular culture—from comics and books to most forms of niche music.”

Veronica Mars had that commitment, and it was perfectly paired with new technology in Kickstarter. With Warner Bros.’ approval, the now famous fundraising campaign that asked for $2M raised over $5M in a month from nearly 100,000 donors. “We can see the Veronica Mars campaign as transformative in demonstrating just how big the opportunity is here for the right creators and the right properties,” says Jenkins.

Two weekends ago, Veronica Mars was released by Warner Bros. in 270 theaters, and, in keeping with its progressive past, it was released simultaneously on VOD platforms—a first for Warner Brothers. In theaters the film grossed nearly $2M, or $6,833 per theater, landing it a bottom spot in the top ten for that weekend. Not bad for a fan-funded film.

“Kickstarter has long demonstrated its ability to fund independent and niche media, but since Veronica Mars, we are seeing more and more cult media-makers who previously worked on the edges of the mainstream—from Spike Lee to Steven Sonderberg—cross over into this space. We will see more,” predicts Jenkins.

And if the Veronica Mars movie is a punctuation mark to the series, it certainly isn’t a period. The CW announced in January that Thomas will bring the Veronica Mars world to their online platform for original content, the CW Seed.

Does this mean that the clever, cynical sleuthing of Veronica could be resurrected as a new series? If so, what does that say about the conventional wisdom of Hollywood and the power of fans to demand—and receive—the shows they want? For now, Jenkins sees limitations to funding projects in the Veronica Mars way. “These mechanisms work best where there is a recognized audience already somewhat familiar with the offering: so, we can see works by cult auteurs work here, or we can see it as the court of last resort for a canceled series. It also can work where there is an underserved population—a minority group of some kind (racial, ethnic, sexual, political, cultural) who wants to establish that there is a base of support for a particular kind of media production.”

Join us on April 4th as we continue the conversation on new forms of television production and distribution during our panel entitled “Second Screens, Connected Viewing, Crowd-Funding and Social Media: Re-Imagining Television Consumption. Panelists include Ivan Askwith (lead strategist, “Veronica Mars” Kickstarter Campaign), Vicky L. Free (chief marketing officer, BET Networks), Nick Loeffler (director of business development, Kindle Worlds), Stacey Lynn Schulman (senior vice president, chief research officer, Television Bureau of Advertising), and Sharon L. Strover (professor, College of Communication, University of Texas at Austin) and will be moderated by Henry Jenkins.

For more info, and to buy tickets, visit


Next year, as attendees of Transforming Hollywood 6 post photos and videos from the event, they will be aggregated and displayed on the Transforming Hollywood website and Facebook page as well as across monitors at the conference through TH6 sponsor, WESAWIT, a fan engagement platform for the entertainment industry.

WESAWIT, a co-venture of UCLA Producer Program alums Thibault Mathieu (’12) and Morgan Rostagnat (’11), uses proprietary technology to help event organizers understand their audience better by managing and interacting with fan content gathered from the social web.

“Today’s live event spectator is more savvy than ever, embracing multiple forms of online engagement and we expect this market segment to grow dramatically as technologies continue to expand,” says WESAWIT CEO and Co-founder, Thibault Mathieu. WESAWIT’s proprietary technology manages all visual fan content in one platform, making it easy to curate, display and interact with social content generated at individual events.

WESAWIT works with some of the most popular live entertainment venues in the U.S., including STAPLES Center, Hollywood Bowl, Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and Goldenvoice.

Director of Communications & Social Media at STAPLES Center and Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE, Cara Vanderhook states, “WESAWIT has become an extension of our online marketing efforts at STAPLES Center and Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE, providing us with valuable insight about our fans and making it easier for us to interact with key audiences in real time at each and every event hosted on site.”

STAPLES Center, recent host of the 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards®, collected over 2,415 photos and 274 videos from this one event alone.

Visit WESAWIT online:, follow @wesawitapp on Twitter, and give them a like on Facebook