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Firefly was canceled by Fox after eleven episodes. Battlestar Galactica spin-off Caprica lasted only one season on Syfy, and its second spin-off got canned before even airing. Better Off Ted was killed by ABC after a season, and Fox’s run of Arrested Development died earlier than it should have.
Why did these shows die? Because TV network executives didn’t feel confident they would bring in the kind of audience (aka ratings) necessary to sell enough ads to make it worthwhile — despite legions of diehard fans with expendable incomes. The traditional television business just isn’t producing the kind of long-lasting hits it once did, which media startup Mobcaster sees as a lucrative opportunity.
Mobcaster is one of many in a new breed of crowdfunded project platforms that allow anyone to provide the necessary financing to get a project off the ground. Oftentimes, these projects are ones that are unable to gain the attention of banks, venture capital firms, or angel investors. Mobcaster focuses on giving aspiring or notable TV show runners the means to pitch people on either funding a pilot or full series via online campaigns. And similar to Kickstarter, people can pledge different amounts in return for things like getting a producer credit, having a character named after them, and gaining access to season extras.
Thus far, Mobcaster campaigns have raised a total of more than $100,000, the company told VentureBeat. The bulk of that total ($73,975) was for Australian-produced comedy The Weatherman, which managed to gain 103 pledges from “execs” back in March. The show also recently signed a seemingly lucrative distribution deal with TiVo.
But The Weatherman isn’t the only notable show to gain funding through Mobcaster. Scripted drama Underbelly, starring Andy Dick, managed to reach its goal of $5,000. Another campaign, sci-fi drama Drifter, ended prematurely because the Mobcaster buzz managed to gain the attention of a production studio.
“There are now more people than ever needing or (producing) full-length TV content,” Mobcaster CEO Aubrey Levy said in an interview with VentureBeat, adding that TV executives are often overwhelmed.
“What’s traditionally done is the studios will buy up rights (to a show), market the hell out of it, and hope it works,” Levy explained, adding that there’s a reason popular web shows that already have buzz/marketing rarely cross over to TV. “Unlike taking a short web series that’s popular on YouTube and stretching it to fit into a full-length format, which almost never works, these (Mobcaster funded) shows are a real [full-length] product.”
Mobcaster is set up as a launchpad to help TV studios recognize quality shows that are already getting attention before the first episode is even broadcast or distributed through OnDemand video platforms like TiVo or Hulu. That means show makers must produce professional-quality work. Levy said that doesn’t mean someone with little production experience wouldn’t be able to set up a campaign.
“I’m willing to let the market decide each show’s fate. If they can get it funded, who are we to stand in their way?” he said.
On the business end, Mobcaster takes a five percent cut from all campaigns that complete their funding goals, while the show’s producers retain 100 percent ownership of the TV series. (Imagine for a moment, if pre-Avengers movie Joss Whedon was able to retain the rights to Firefly. The world would be a better place.) The startup also distributes all pilots and (eventually) TV show episodes from show makers on its website, which could provide another source of revenue.
Founded in 2011, the New York-based startup faces indirect competition from Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and others.
Original piggy bank photo via Andrey Burmakin/Shutterstock; illustration by Tom Cheredar