Commentary

Online Video Makers Buying Big Tickets To The Movies

A lot of the talk at this year’s NewFronts has been about mobile users accessing video in tantalizing and increasing numbers but weirdly, a lot of the talk has also been about. . . the movies.

On Monday, Fullscreen and Defy Media, arguably two of the most influential multichannel network providers, hyped films about to hit the silver screen. At Defy Media, CEO Matt Diamond predicted the upcoming Lionsgate release “Smosh: The Movie” coming this summer and starring Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox, “is going to be the single biggest event of the summer for millennials.”  

At Fullscreen’s NewFront presentation, it  hyped “#O2LForever,” a documentary film featuring vlogging supergroup Our Second Life and the movie “The Outfield,” starring Vine stars Cameron Dallas and Nash Grier as varsity baseball players.

And if those movies do hit big, in a headline-making kind of way, the spotlight goes to online video, with probable corresponding ad sales.

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From Vine or YouTube to the movies seems illogical enough, but after the Defy presentation, Diamond agreed advertisers “may be impressed with a big box office even more than the gigantic viewership numbers.”  “Smosh” has over 30 million subscribers and 17 million monthly unique viewers, but at NewFronts, sponsoring content creators throw around millions of views and billions of impressions so casually you could begin to question what all of that is worth.

It all becomes a blur of staggering, too-hard-to-contemplate largeness. Andy Tu, Defy's executive vice president of marketing, brags about Defy's many "thumb-stopping moments" like its "Screen Junkies" franchise, but even its popularity is better explained by anecdote than by numbers.

By contrast, box office is box office--you can compare one week to the next--and nothing catches the attention of the old mass media than when disruptive media makes that obvious overly loud ka-ching at the entertainment cash register.

The one thing the best content creators have in common is that because so much of their programming grows out of users’ imaginations, it’s usually not like anything else. That makes online originality a hard sell.

Monday’s other main NewFront presenter, Machinima, unveiled an awesome slate of projects. Chad Gutstein, Machinima’s CEO, claims it’’s the ninth-largest video platform in the U.S. and YouTube’s second most-watched programmer on YouTube. With a median viewership age of 31, it’s hard to say it’s just kids watching its videos about games, heroes and guts.

Gutstein, like everybody in the online space, is playing for the millennials.  “They love our content. We are the most notorious cultivators of millennial culture,” he said, and they respond to “great stories told in a language their community understands: Their own.”

Indeed, at least twice during its NewFront presentation, reference was made to the apparent fact that the Machinima audience seems to be in their own world and proud of it.  “I know I know. You didn’t understand any of these jokes,” said JeromeASF, a Machinima star, on stage, after a comic riff. “But our audience will.”

Probably the headline project from Machinima is “Justice League Gods and Monsters Chronicles Season 2” from producer and animator Bruce Timm, in which Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman are now seemingly nasty, nasty villains and drawn that way.  

Machinima also announced new series like a quite funny and violent re-do of “Robo Cop”; a sci-fi yarn created and produced by the noted Roberto Orci called, “High School 51” about a student who realizes he’s the only real human being at his high school in the mythic alien-infested Area 51; the animated “Happy Wheels,” based on the gory online game with characters like Wheelchair Guy, Irresponsible Dad and Lawnmower Man; and notably, “Clive Barker’s ‘Creepy Pasta,’ in which the horror master Barker will curate viewer submissions of story ideas about urban horror legends (like Slender Man, Jeff the Killer and so on) and fashion them into short live-action films.

The genre--“Creepy Pasta” as it’s been called--has been compared to scary storytelling around the campfire.

That’s Machinima for you, just a little macabre, often in a funny way. “Car chases. Dash board cam crash videos. These are some of the best-watched videos on the Internet” said Chief Content Officer Daniel Tibbets and Machinima’s got a lot of them too.

But Defy has “Smosh” and remarkably, for the 10 years it’s been around, that franchise hasn’t spawned little “Smosh” satellites. That changes now as Smosh introduces a new program, “Best [Blank] Ever” (the “blank” is for a specific topic as in “Best Instagram Ever”) in which four new characters Smosh and Defy hope will grow into characters, are showcased.   

Defy is framing the presence of four new cast members like a “Saturday Night Live”-like addition to the franchise. The plain fact that the top show for guys 13-17 is fronted by two guys who are less than two years away from their 30th birthdays may have Defy and Smosh wondering. Indeed, Madame Tussaud’s just announced it will be touring wax figures of the duo--first online video characters waxed!--a sign of legendary status. Also of aging.


pj@mediapost.com

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