Commentary

Believe Entertainment Group Believes in the Power of Celebrity Web Hits

Finding success in the Web series business is not that different from traditional Hollywood at times. Star power helps a lot.

That’s what digital studio Believe Entertainment Group has been banking on. Believe is the studio behind Web hits like The LeBrons, The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, Mommycast and Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. Next up, Believe plans to launch shows with popular DJ Tiesto, an icon of electronic dance music and one of Billboard’s most successful touring acts, and superstar Jennifer Lopez early in 2012. The studio's founders say they’ll look to the success of this past year’s The LeBrons as a framework. That show earned more than 50 million views across YouTube, iTunes, Digital Broadcasting Group and the star’s social channels during its three-month run, a nice performance for the show and for its advertisers, including HP, Intel, Spite, Nike and Bing.

Indeed, celebrity sells.

That may sound obvious, but it’s a fact of the entertainment business that Web producers have shied away from for years and are now returning to. In recent months, the Web publisher SheKnows.com has partnered with celebs like Kate Walsh and Melissa Rivers, while distributors like AOL have said their most popular lifestyle video usually feature famous faces, and even
YouTube is leaning on the world’s brightest stars like Madonna and Jay-Z for its new content initiative.

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Believe, too, is choosing to partner with established talent because they bring their own audiences and built-in social distribution to the table when it comes to the Web. “We are not in the business of trying to find the next YouTube star. We try to take marketable talent today and develop shows with A-list talent,” said Bill Masterson, one of the co-founders of Believe.

The company finances most of its shows internally and then reaches out to brands and distributors once a show is already in production. Believe earns revenue from advertising, international licensing and even album deals from its shows, in some cases. Given its recent success with the LeBrons, I asked Masterson and Goodman to share three lessons learned for Web video production.

1. Talent and great content drive audiences, partners, and advertisers, said Dan Goodman, also a co-founder of Believe. “There is no substitute for a tremendous talent,” Goodman said. That’s why the company has chosen to finance its own productions — so it can find the talent it wants to work with.

2. Don’t tie yourself to one distributor. Experiment with YouTube Hulu, Netflix, AOL, Yahoo, MSN and others. These companies are changing shapes and strategies regularly, so it makes sense not to be tethered too closely to one distributor, Goodman said. “We never own the distribution. We don’t ask the distributors for financial support or to finance a show either.” Let the distributors do just that — distribute.

3. Don’t bet on branded entertainment. Start with a show, rather than a brand. “We came to Sprite on the LeBrons after we started production and built ads around the show rather than brainstorming a Sprite show,” Masterson said.

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