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Strike.TV Launches Quality Online Distractions in HD

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Strike.TV announced the launch of its online HD video network at Digital Hollywood this week. The network features original short-form content by the creative talent behind television shows like “The Office,” “Friends” and “Ugly Betty.” Among the shows are “Global Warming,” a romantic comedy about an overworked corporate drone in New York (SNL’s Kristen Wiig) and a caring database support technician in Bangalore (the Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi). For fans of Mindy Kaling (Kelly Kapoor on “The Office”), there is “House Poor,” about her comedic, underhanded efforts to furnish her house in LA.

What's new about this latest foray into online broadcasting is that it was literally conceived on the writers' strike picket lines and that its initial proceeds are going to charity. Strike.TV’s first three months of advertising revenues will benefit the Entertainment Assistance Program of the Actor’s Fund.

The idea for an online television network came to Strike.TV CEO Peter Hyoguchi while picketing Disney in Burbank. One of the major issues in the strike was compensation for new media. At the time, United Hollywood was making little movies about the strike and getting thousands of hits. While brainstorming for other films, Hyoguchi had the idea for a website called Strike.TV, which would show original, web-based television shows. Hyoguchi’s colleague, Jim Cooper, a Disney screenwriter, suggested relating it back to those affected by the strike: “Why don’t we make it a charity?”

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Strike.TV had its first meeting at the WGA theater in January 2008. 400 WGA members attended, according to Darren Elwood, Strike.TV marketing strategist. It all happened very quickly after that. Strike.TV pitched the idea to the over 6,000 members of the WGA. They unanimously agreed to do it as a charity.

The only pushback Hyoguchi received was that people thought they didn’t have the money to produce content themselves. Hyoguchi realized that Hollywood professionals could use education about tools that could help them in the evolving world of new media. So they held panel discussions with people who had succeeded in online entertainment, technology tutorials, and put together creative teams (“speed dating style”) of composers, writers, actors and directors, to work on new shows.

The maturity of certain technologies in 2007 made the timing right. Costs were no longer a barrier to entry. In 2007, High Definition video cameras hit the market at a price of $3,500. Previously, cameras of comparable quality cost over $100,000. Also in 2007, Final Cut Pro released its HD program, which could be run on an Apple laptop. Editing was formerly done on $15,000 Avid editing machines. Most importantly, the new model gives unprecedented leverage to creators. Because creators own the copyrights in their shows, they can take a show to any network they want.

What are the reactions from the big Hollywood studios? “It’s not viewed as antagonistic,” Hyoguchi said. “We are part of the ecosystem of Hollywood.” Because online distribution offers built-in analytics, “we can aid them by testing a real audience,” said Hyoguchi. In his view, it’s good for the networks because they don’t have to spend money on development work.

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Formerly, Hollywood spent millions and millions of dollars for pilots on script development alone. Many pilots go into production, at a cost of additional millions, but few are picked up. By contrast, Hyoguchi pointed to the success of Kent Nichols and Douglas Sarine, better known as Ask a Ninja. The monthly amount reportedly earned by Ask a Ninja – $100,000 – would not cover costs if it were produced by NBC for network television, but in the online world it can be profitable.

StrikeTV plans to roll out over 40 new shows in coming months. On deck are “Tony Hand,” a show by “Friends” writer and producer Seth Kurland about a disembodied hand that becomes a motivational speaker roaming the earth for existential clues, and “Lawyers,” a show about a firm of inept lawyers. When asked whether “Lawyers” used legal consultants, co-creator Suzanne Francis explained “not much legal research is done” since the fictional lawyers are not very good at their jobs. The plan is to have one new piece of content a day with one to two premieres a week.

StrikeTV is broadcast through Bitgravity’s content delivery network using Episodic’s video publishing platform. Strike.tv is syndicated through Youtube and Joost and available for programming through TiVo. Its revenue model is ad-supported.

Digital Hollywood continues through Wednesday and Thursday at the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica.

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More photos from StrikeTV’s launch and production sets can be seen at Unit Still Photographer’s Damon D’Amato’s flickr photo pool.

Photo of Peter Hyoguchi and Perry Wu by Damon D'Amato via flickr. Photo of Mindy Kaling on the set of "House Poor" by Damon D'Amato via flickr. Photo of Digital Hollywood by Lisa Borodkin.