Below you’ll see a map of the digital video ecosystem, as created in a keynote conversation at the New York Television Festival, assembled by Paul Kontonis, head of the IAWTV.
I’ve found there’s a lot of demand for maps of what’s going on online. And it’s easy to see why: it’s complicated!
The graph above maps the video market by size and influence. Digital indies may have big investors but are generally private corporations capitalized under $1 billion. Digital majors are more often public (or owned by public companies) and have enough revenue to invest serious cash into production, distribution and monetization. Old school types are what we might call “legacy” media, or companies who rely on them. The “big names” are nearly all associated with YouTube, which more than other companies has invested in independent producers (whether or not they continue going forward is a big question). Anyone researching or writing about web video should, in my opinion, be familiar with all the companies above and how they interrelate.
The panel was mostly uneventful, but I noticed a strange elision: when Kontonis mentioned Kickstarter and Indiegogo, every industry expert on stage—all of whom are very smart about this—dismissed them immediately.
I understand the impulse. The video industry is small. Financing is minuscule compared to television, and everyone wanted to reserve space on the chart for companies that were investing really money—millions—in the space.
But crowdfunding has already been integrated into the industry’s production chain. Last month Issa Rae, creator of hit web series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,teamed with Shonda Rhimes to bring a sitcom to ABC. It was only a year ago I interviewed her after a knockout $60,000 Kickstarter campaign (and Shonda Rhimes knows a little something about getting a show on television). Felicia Day, The Guild creator who now has a premium YouTube channel and the web’s most durable indie franchise, would not be here had fans not given thousands to keep The Guild alive after its first season.
At Televisual I’ve shown how crowdfinancing is now de riguer for independent filmmakers and television producers, even if they have investors. Crowdsourcing has been a way to get buzz/press and recruit advocates and fans. I’ve seen over and over how running a successful campaign gives producers access to top agents, managers and studios hungry for new talent and ideas.
Independents are crucial to Hollywood. Everyone praises the billions directors like Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, George Lucas, etc. bring to studios, but how quickly they forget that nearly every major creative in Los Angeles these days started with a low-budget indie that put them on the map.
Television production has been less amenable to these independents than film, but that’s changing, albeit slowly. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kickstarter, Indiegogo and some of their more focused offspring are not around in a few years. But I’d bet money they’ll stick it out. The next JJ Abrams is probably signing and mailing t-shirts and posters to his supportive fans as I type.