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Celebs on the Web: Hollywood Discovers Streaming Video

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So what kind of celebs work best on the web? “Someone like Ashton Kutcher, who has over 12 million Twitter followers, would be a natural for a web series,” observes Steve Woolf, Blip.tv’s VP of content. “So is Brent Spiner, who has over a million Twitter followers. But Brent himself told me that the fact that Fresh Hell wasn’t sci-fi, which is what his fans know and love him for, cut into the series’ overall success. The fact is, a celebrity has to give his fans what they want, whether on TV or the web.”

A strong social media following can be key to translating a celeb’s TV success into web success. But that’s not all. “For a celeb to really bring value to a web series producer, they have to be relevant to a web audience,” says Jim Louderback, CEO of Revision3 (www.revision3.com). “I mean, we have worked successfully with Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller, but the reason he did well on the web is because his straightforward style and wit speaks to the online audience. In other circumstances, the people we have who are ‘celebs’ have this status due to their work on the web.”

It is this genuine web authenticity — sort of an “internet street cred” — that marks celebs with durable internet appeal. “The Guild’s Felicia Day is a perfect example of a true web celeb,” says Woolf. “Although traditional TV celebs — people who are ‘famous for being famous,’ as the saying goes — can make an impact on this medium, I do not believe that will have lasting staying power unless their fame has some legitimate web roots.”

Content Producer Primer: How to Get the Most Out of Celebs

Clearly, celebs with fan followings and bankable reputations are interested in getting onto the web, and many are willing to work at more-than-reasonable rates for the chance. Now this doesn’t mean that web content producers should count on major stars working for peanuts; after all, this is a business. Nevertheless, “celebrities would love the idea of having their content produced” by willing web content providers, says Mary Lynn Rajskub. “[It] seems like a match made in heaven.”

So how can content producers capitalize on this opportunity? The first step is to get the news out to actors that you are looking for content and that artistic freedom is included as part of the package. The next step is to provide interested actors with the support and studio facilities to realize their concepts, even if they seem a bit “out there.” Finally, you need to promote the heck out of their web series in every form of media possible, to cash in on the star’s drawing power for everyone’s eventual benefit. (Note: It helps if the celeb has the ability to attract other celebs to the show, as Illeana Douglas has with Easy to Assemble.)

Numbers Don’t Lie

As the success of Easy to Assemble has proven (Episodes 1–4 garnered 1.9 million views in their first 4 weeks, according to audited numbers cited by Tubefilter News), web series can grab big audience numbers. This is why IKEA has increased the series’ budget year after year, culminating with Season 3 (titled Finding North).

DouglasThis season of Easy to Assemble sees the cast taken out of the store and into the real world. Of course, given IKEA’s Nordic roots, it makes sense that “Finding North is a road trip story set in Sweden where we follow the IKEA co-workers as they find out who they are and where they are going,” says Douglas. “It stars Justine Bateman, Ed Begley, Craig Bierko, Corey Feldman, Patricia Heaton, Fred Willard, and a host of Swedish actors.”

Such is the power of the Easy to Assemble audience, built entirely from its airing on the web, that Douglas has been able to produce a 90-minute feature film based on her characters. Also, “Finding North will have its own soundtrack featuring indie Swedish bands Sparhusen and Marching Band,” Douglas says. “Easy to Assemble is the first web series to feature an indie music soundtrack.”

Act Now, Before the Window Closes

If there is a moral to this tale, it is that established celebs can bring real value to a web series, and vice versa. This is because the web is akin to television in its early “golden days,” before the bean counters took control and experimentation flourished.

“The web is still in its infancy, allowing artists to do very creative things that they can no longer do on TV and in films,” Douglas muses. “There’s a window of opportunity here that’s closing fast, and I am very grateful for the chance.” So are the millions of viewers who watch Easy to Assemble and other unique, celeb-driven web series, none of which have any equivalent on conventional TV. 

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