The successful creation of a TV show is a notoriously difficult endeavor. Not least of the challenges encountered along the way is raising financing to make something for which no one really can know the audience demand. Then there’s the need to find distribution for this unproven product. Mobcaster is a crowdfunding platform and online television network launched late last year that aims to solve both of these problems.
The site is finding its groove, having financed its first full season show (six episodes), a handful of pilot episodes, and now launching its first funding campaign associated with a known star. Well, that star is Andy Dick, but D-list is better than no list.
Dick’s new project, “Underbelly,” officially went live on Friday in search of the final $5,000 to complete its pilot episode. The project was created by Ryan Philander and includes a cast of recognizable faces beyond the eccentric and controversial Dick.
Underbelly is a story about vastly different yet interconnected lives living in Los Angeles trying to find fame, love, or just survive. The ensemble is made up of all walks and races, and they both need each other and destroy each other. They are flawed but hopeful while navigating the pitfalls of the city and one another.
In short, the piece has been in production for about a year, features some notable talent, and has a legitimate shot at getting network attention. So why turn to crowdfunding to raise such a small amount of money this close to the finish line?
Mobcaster provides several real advantages over traditional production routes. First, and not to be discounted, is content creators’ desire to maintain full control over their show and to deliver a finished product that is true to their vision. Second, successfully crowdfunded projects enjoy a built in audience.
Aspiring content creators post 150-second pitch videos and set their fundraising goals along with a series of rewards. Members then pledge funding using their PayPal account, therein voicing their desire to see the show become a reality. Like more mainstream funding sites such as Kickstarter, Mobcaster takes five percent of all funds raised and uses an all-or-nothing approach (as opposed to IndieGoGo’s rolling fundraising method).
In the case of Underbelly, there are nine reward levels. $25 or more earns a digital download — or DVD for some unexplained reason — and a mention in the credits, while $300 gets an invite to the wrap party with cast and crew (excluding travel). $1,500 unlocks the greatest treasure of them all (but not the most expensive): a day hanging out with Andy Dick. Judging by his assistant-search MTV reality show “The Assistant,” it’s sure to be an unpredictable, profanity-filled adventure.
With a completed 22 minute pilot, the producers of each Mobcaster show typically pitch networks as well as alternative platforms like Hulu and Netflix. Networks recognize the platform as a zero-cost incubator that can deliver quality programming with otherwise cost prohibitive audience data and insight. Traditional network studio statistics show 75 pilots produced per season at a cost of nearly $150 million. Only one third receive any airtime, while one in 15 see a second season. Mobcaster stands to disrupt this inefficient system.
Mobcaster provides its own distribution as well through an online video channel. As a destination for professionally produced independent TV content, the site has surprisingly few peers online. YouTube is known for user-generated content, movie trailers, and music videos. Hulu on the other end of the spectrum is for paywall-protected traditional television content. There’s really very little in between. Whether this is a reflection of audience demand is yet to be seen.
Judging by the willingness of members to fund pilot projects, the answer appears to be no. Whether these same people will continue to pay for this content going forward, either on a per episode or subscription basis, will be one of the things interested parties in this space will watch for. If mobcaster can fund a full slate of content or attract quality content from elsewhere, its video channel could become as compelling as its crowdfunding platform. The site will also display ads with the video content and offers creators a 50-50 revenue split.
Unlike traditional television, content creators maintain all rights to their intellectual property, meaning there’s no “selling” of the show. In this way, if a show does well on the site and there’s an opportunity for wider distribution through traditional TV, there are no issues with intellectual property transfer. In the end Mobcaster receives a 15 percent carry in the project going forward.
Prior to “Underbelly,” Mobcaster successfully funded the pilot and then the first six-episode season of Australian TV project, “The Weatherman.” The site exceeded the $72,500 goal by a nose, bringing in a total of $73,875 from 103 “Execs” or contributors. Another seemingly successful project, boy-meets girl, sci-fi thriller “Drifter,” was pulled mid-fundraising campaign due to promising ongoing negotiations with a Hollywood studio. The social proof gained by attracting funding pledges on Mobcaster couldn’t have hurt its discussions.
“If the project goes to network, we believe it will validate the idea that Web series creators have the skills (if not the resources) to compete with TV head on,” creator Jeff Koenig said during his fundraising campaign. “If the project is released online, we believe that instead will validate that audiences are ready for original TV format programming — a bet that Hulu and Netflix are also making.”
Mobcaster creator Aubrey Levy developed the concept for the platform during his time as a digital media strategist at HBO, and previously as an actor and TV writer. Levy correctly observed that audiences get no input in what content is developed until after it’s produced and ends up on their device. He blames this lack of early audience input for the exceedingly high failure rate of traditional TV shows.
Andy Dick may not ultimately prove to be the answer to what ails television crowdfunding: underdog status and an unproven model does not usually a winning combination make. The combination of several small successes on the other hand, whether involving known talent or not, could be enough to draw the attention of both content creators and a wider audience of potential financiers.