Seinfeld, Hanks, King Tackle Web Video In Different Ways, Face Similar Challenges

Three of America’s most recognizable entertainers -- Jerry Seinfeld, Tom Hanks and Larry King -- have joined the wave of new online video series coming to market -- each with a different kind of show, and each utilizing a different distribution platform.

Seinfeld’s new series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” is quite simply a series of jaunts to the local coffee shop between Seinfeld and a fellow comedian in one of his vintage cars. Larry David, Ricky Gervais, Alec Baldwin and Michael Richards are a few of the special guests slated to appear in the series, which premiere Thursday evenings on ComediansInCarsGettingCoffee.com and Crackle.com.

Hanks’ “Electric City” is a new animated series on Yahoo set in a dystopian future where electricity has become scarce and the world more dangerous following a climatic event. As Jake Coyle of the Associated Press says, the series was billed as a prime example of quality online video programming, but as is so often the case with Web series, “the hype outpaced the show's quality, which is dragged down by mediocre production value and a muddled purpose.”

King’s new show “Larry King Now” will be familiar to fans of the long-time CNN interviewer, as he will interview entertainers and other celebrities, but this time it will be from the comfort of his own home. Among those slated to appear on his show are Matthew McConaughey, Betty White, Seth MacFarlane and George Lopez. The series is created by King and the new digital network Ora TV (which is backed by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim) and will run four 20- to-25-minute episodes per week on Hulu.

To be sure, Seinfeld, Hanks and King have enjoyed tremendous success, building impressive careers through traditional media. Now they are forging ahead with the principal goal of trying to crack the online video code.

Coyle claims their respective projects “could all be classified in the vanity variety” in that none of them are expecting to make gobs of money. Part of the problem, Coyle says, is that the Web, by its very nature, “is not good at ‘immersive’.” If there’s a lull in a show, or the user remembers something more pressing that he or she needs to do, for example, myriad other options are clicks away. Thus, distraction becomes the biggest competitor to any video series.

But as Coyle says, “even if the dollars aren't there yet and the content isn't always superior, it's surely a milestone when one of America's most favorite movie stars, one of its most beloved comedians and one of its signature news anchors are all opting for the Web.” 

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