Tinseltown Taps Video Sites

Like executives in nearly all other industries these days, Hollywood players are scrambling to boost their Internet presence.

Consider United Talent Agency, among the world's biggest talent shops.  It forged an alliance in January with the Internet television "peercasting" network Veoh, specifically to provide budding stars a direct channel to the professionals.

The deal came just months after UTA launched an online unit and solicited user-created clips, only to find itself flooded with submissions. Enter Veoh, whose board members include former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who happens to be friends with UTA's Jeremy Zimmer. Veoh agreed to power an online channel for UTA that provides contributors with better video-editing tools and a more social interface. Users can submit work of any length, and UTA can post materials from its artists and filmmakers. Veoh will keep UTA Online abreast of particularly popular artists and videos.

Dmitry Shapiro, Veoh's founder and CEO, says the company entered into the partnership after realizing that a large crop of new content creators were emerging - some extremely talented - but they lacked representation.

The collaboration is too new to have borne fruit yet but, thanks to its earlier efforts, UTA Online signed a group of L.A. artists called People Food. Their spoof - "Paxilback"- of Justin Timberlake's hit "Sexyback," has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on the Web.

UTA isn't the only Hollywood agency making moves online. The William Morris Agency created a digital media division last spring that uses the Web to find online work for its clients. Last year the agency landed comedian Tom Green his own Web-based talk show.

But Hollywood's attempt to harness the Web raises the question of whether big media can mesh with the user-generated content movement. Veoh's Shapiro says, "The last thing we want to do is create a rigid system like the one Hollywood created." His company's goal is to be more inclusive, offering a destination where users collaborate, review and share video.

Other video-oriented Web site owners agree. Anthony Batt, CEO of Buzznet, a site focused on building out the social-networking aspects of its user-created content, says user participation is trending toward something bigger - a world where content creation, content consumption, even advertising, comes from the same place: the user.

So where does Hollywood fit in? Batt and Shapiro agree that agencies, for example, will discover that the Internet is a useful resource for finding talent and getting them exposure. Sites with user-generated content will continue to influence how people consume video.

That doesn't mean amateur clips will crowd out professional content. More likely, they'll co-exist on separate tracks. "Don't think the two have to co-mingle," Batt says.

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