Los Angeles-based EQAL (www.eqal.com) launched into the online world in 2006 with the creation of the YouTube sensation "lonelygirl15," the fictional video blog of a teenage girl. Since the, EQAL has inked a number of deals--the most recent with CBS on the show "Harper's Island"--to develop online shows which take full advantage of the Internet medium. We sat down and spoke with Miles Beckett and Greg Goodfried, co-founders of the firm, about what the firm is up to now, their view on how to mesh entertainment and the Internet, and how to go beyond creating a viral hit. (Photo credit: EQAL. Greg Goodfried, left, Miles Beckett, right).
Thanks for the interview. First, why don't you tell us a little bit about what your model is with companies like CBS?
Miles Beckett: Our company EQAL is a social entertainment company, which means two things. On the social side, we build technology to create communities, and social network-style websites. On the entertainment side, we produce what we call social shows, which are interactive, online, video/multimedia type shows. The product that we offer is being able to do the full gamut of production and technology. For example, if you wanted to put together a really, really cool social show, we can do everything necessary to get it off the ground, from developing, producing the show, distributing it online, etc.
Because we're on location here in LA, we're working with entertainment companies, like big studios and networks. What we're doing with CBS is we're taking TV shows, and creating social shows that tie into those properties. We're either producing original online-only productions, or doing co-productions with independent producers or production companies.
How much coordination is there in this latest effort you have on Harper's Island?
Miles Beckett: It's actually very coordinated. Back in spring, we were friendly with Quincy Smith and Nancy Tellum. (Editor's note: Quincy Smith is CEO of CBS Interactive; Nancy Tellum is President of CBS Paramount Network Television). When we agreed to do the deal, both of us wanted to be able to get in at the script level, and when we were thinking about what project to work on, Harper's popped out. They're the producers behind Jericho, and have had lots of online success, and they definitely understand the value of going online. Two, the nature of the show--which has a mystery-based element--lended very well to interactivity and the online narrative that we're familiar with through things like lonelygirl. The creators, Jeff Bell and Jon Turteltaub, were very excited. When they had their pilot script--which, as everyone does, got rewritten a bunch of times--we were there with them. We had lots of meetings while it was being develops, and the goal was to create the best TV show which tied in and had a huge amount of crossover, where it would be part of one overarching story.
What's the business model and relationship you use?
Greg Goodfried: In this particular case, the show had already been picked up by CBS, and the show was being producted by the studio, CBS Paramount. So, in this case it's essentially the network and CBS Interactive paying for the show. CBS has three prongs--the studio, network, and interactive. So, once the show is picked up and orders a full season, either the network or their digital department pays for the budget.
Is that the case with all the things you are producing?
Greg Goodfried: If it's multi-platform TV, that will usually be th emodel. Typically the network is the party who has ordered the TV episode, and also controls the digital right of exploitation of those TV episodes.
On a different tact-- lots of people are eager to have their content "go viral" -- and having burst onto the scene with lonelygirl15, how would you describe what you've learned from how to make a viral hit?
Greg Goodfried: I think there are a few components to going viral. First and foremost, you've got to use the Internet and the tools of the Internet to their fullest potential, as far as social tools go. In terms of lonelygirl, and also on katemodern, we spent lots of time with interactive coordinators who were talking with the community. With lonelygirl, we had our account up for a month before the first video. Lonelygirl15 was commenting, friending people, and immersing in the community. By the time the video went up, we had a pretty solid friend base. She had thousands of friends, was really well known as an active commenter on YouTube, so when the video went up, lots of people checked it out and click on it. That was a big factor. Second, the quality of the video itself helped. It was not too long, and was very engaging. Frequency is very important.
Miles Beckett: One thing we should say, and something that was different about lonelygirl--and what we recognized and was part of the thought process in developing the company--is in order to have sustainability online, you have to go beyond viral. In the case of lonelygirl, the meme of lonelygirl15 blog coverage was viral in nature. But, ultimately, people watching the videos wasn't a falsh in the pan, and no one video got lots of views. Each video got more and more views, and it really was building up an audience. The way we pitch it to studios and networks is, look--this is a community you're building, which is dedicated to your brand, and brings lasting value.
Hollywood seems to still be struggling with the Internet, because it seems to be breaking all the old models. From your viewpoint, where do you see the industry going?
Miles Beckett: We're really excited about the hybrid of the community and the content. Part of the reason why we dedicated the money we raised toward our technology team and software applications, was to create these cool, social-network type shows. We really believe in the community side. You are seeing more and more content moving online, in the context of social environments on the web. If you look at things that have done well, typically, it's because they have some social component. Most of the organic Internet shows attract a following. For example, the blogs that have become popular have a conversational feel, rather than a broadcast feel.
What's your opinion on whether it's better to create online-online content, as many startups have gone--or to tie into existing shows, like what you've been doing?
Greg Goodfried: The trush is that both work. But, if you can do multi-platform with TV, it's a fantastic opportunity. The TV audience size -- even though every article talks about viewership shrinking or becoming more complicated--is still enormous. People watch tons and tons of TV. Even bigger, if they're exposed to a TV show they like, and there is a nice atmosphere online to consume more, they will do so. You see shows like American Idol, Big Brother, and Heros and Lost crossing over to online. For us, it's a really cool concept to be able to watch content on multiple platforms and venues, and as a startup company, it's a great opportunity to get your project out there to a larger audience. Plus, the budget allows us to make content that we can really be proud of. That being said, we still very much believe in web-only content, even though financing that content and distribution is always complicated. I think you should do both.
Finally, what are you working on next?
Miles Beckett: We are working on a few things. We have a variety of online-only projects in development, that--because we're in LA, and close to Hollywood--are either with celebrities, or talent, or are traditional Hollywood type plays. We did a spinoff of lonelygirl15 in the UK called Katemodern, and are doing more internal spinoffs of that brand. Finally, we're developing more multi-platform shows, whether it's an original one where we have the idea for the show from the ground up, or whether it's partnering up with a network to do a show that will be on the air. You'll see all of those things this year.