As a student at the University of Wisconsin in the 1980s, Mika Salmi wore his hair spiked, and he rocked to such hard-core rock bands as Hüsker Dü. He was an anti-establishment rebel: "Screw the Man" was his philosophy.
These days, Salmi is dangerously close to becoming the Man. Through his AtomFilms, a two-year-old company that shows short films on its Web site, Salmi has put himself at the nexus of the convergence of technology and show business. More than a million visitors check out Atom's site each month, making it by far the largest purveyor of short films on the Web. DreamWorks, the Hollywood studio set up by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen, is linking up with filmmaker Ron Howard and tech billionaire Paul Allen to launch their own copycat short-film site, Pop.com, this spring. But more important, Atom is positioned to be the most important Web distributor of indie films as the number of high-speed Internet connections swells and the ability to compress full-length feature films into small data files improves.
And the 34-year-old Finn doesn't plan to stop there. Salmi teamed up with Microsoft recently to put Atom's films on the software giant's new Pocket PC handheld computers. And his offline business selling short films to television networks, airlines, and even elevator makers accounts for about 60% of Atom's revenue. Salmi even toys with the notion of launching a cable-television channel that features his shorts.
Never mind that short films have never been a lucrative business. And it's at least an open question whether consumers really want to watch films on their computer screens or palm-size devices. Salmi believes that these works are the just right size -- about the length of a coffee break -- to provide quick entertainment on computer screens, while not trying to compete with television. Atom's audience and technology make Salmi confident. "We're going to become a major media company," he says.
Media mogul is probably an occupation Salmi would have sneered at in his college days. And while he wears his sideburns long in the retro-cool style of the day and pipes such tunes as Bob Marley's Buffalo Soldier through Atom's Seattle headquarters, Salmi is becoming the envy of the Internet and the entertainment establishment. It's enough to make the Man proud.