Free Pilots For Everyone! Now, Go Find Viewers

What if networks were in the “free-pilot” business?

The online business can essentially offer “free pilots” with entire episodes made for as little as $500 apiece -- or as high as $125,000 for six to eight episodes.

Original ad-supported online episodes aren’t generally 22 minutes nor 44 minutes long like traditional half-hour or hour TV shows.

Now companies like Break Media are looking at slightly longer, more expensive TV-like content, which could cost around $250,000 for a series. One prospective project, “Higher Power,” will be released in “chapters” -- just like Yahoo’s “Cybergeddon” or Warner Bros. Digital Distribution’s  “H+”. Most episodes of these series are four to eight minutes long.

The plan is to sell these shows to U.S. TV channels -- cable networks, it seems -- and then internationally. There is little detail on how cable networks would consider such content, at least on their traditional channels --- especially when many of them (such as TNT, FX, AMC and USA), continue to buy regular-looking shows from big studios with big network-like production values.



That said, perhaps Netflix’s “House of Cards” has changed a lot of people’s minds. Its $100 million deal for two seasons – 13 episodes a year -- opened up everyone’s eyes. But “Cards” isn’t ad-supported, so a different financial model is at work.

Down the line, one must assume that production costs will continue to be a pressing issue -- especially as viewers are ever more thinly spread out across the TV landscape.

People have talked about digital video platforms being the “minor leagues” or “development grounds” for new shows. Some ideas have indeed come from these platforms -- but none have been successful.

It also doesn’t hurt that recent years have seen a decline in the number of studio TV productions. That means lots of production people are looking for opportunities.  As a result, all this continues to be a worthy experiment.

But that’s not all. Break Media CEO Keith Richman believes that ”The challenge is increasingly how do we think of ourselves as a marketing and distribution platform.” Oh, yeah. Gotta find some viewers.

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