Technology

Plentitube: Your Agent for Online Video


Plentitube aspires to be the middleman for the YouTube generation, helping online content creators find a way to pull in revenue

In the age of YouTube, online video has opened a world of possibilities for artists like James and Tyler McFadden. Over the last two years, the duo has produced a collection of quirky, short, animated films with their Web-based production studio, GoPotato TV. But all the technology in the world hasn't changed one thing for the McFadden brothers. "Making money is not an easy thing to do with online video," says Tyler McFadden, 27, who heads up business development for the company.

Sure, Big Media is starting to see the Web as a source of high-quality video talent; on Nov. 24, Fox Interactive Media (NWS) unit IGN.com said it reached production and distribution deals with a dozen independent Web producers, including Black 20 Digital Studios, CollegeHumor, and ScrewAttack.com. But for every indie producer that lands a deal, scores are struggling to get noticed.

Online Talent Scout

That's where Plentitube comes in. An online talent scout, Plentitube is trying to become a middleman of the new media, a matchmaker for the YouTube generation. In the 1950s, a leggy blonde would get discovered while waiting tables at Chasen's restaurant in Los Angeles. But in the Digital Age, Plentitube founders Jon Labes and Talia Pulver believe the future of talent discovery will happen increasingly in online venues like the one they are building. "We are creating new types of matchmaking services," says Labes, 25, who is also Plentitube's CEO.

Before they signed on with Plentitube, the McFadden brothers managed to license a few shorts with Viacom's (VIA) Comedy Central and with Web players such as Atom.com. They've pulled in some revenue from advertisements shown on their videos on Google's (GOOG) YouTube. And they have been trying to break into the big leagues by working on an informal basis with UTA Online, the division of Hollywood agency United Talent that represents Web talent.

But soon after joining Plentitube, the brothers scored the biggest deal of their careers, striking a deal in August with Time Warner's (TWX) Cinemax in the low six figures to license eight new episodes of their animated series Eli's Dirty Jokes. A modern riff on Borscht Belt comedy, the show is a series of one-minute ribald stories told by an elderly narrator modeled on the family's 79-year-old accountant, who does the voiceovers. "We've never had a series that's been developed to air exclusively on TV," says James McFadden, 29, the company's head of creative development. "I am not sure Cinemax would have been able to find the series without Plentitube. This takes us to another level."

A Subscription Model

In classic startup form, one-year-old Plentitube is being bootstrapped from an office in lower Manhattan with $75,000 raised from friends and family. But thanks to the Cinemax deal and a growing talent network, the eight-person company is off to a promising start. In addition to the McFadden brothers, Plentitube is offering several thousand videos from nearly 500 video producers and artists. "We are pioneering the talent-discovery industry," says Pulver, 27, the company's president and chief creative officer.

Plentitube believes there is money to be made by bringing these parties together. If the company strikes a deal for a content creator, Plentitube takes a 5% commission. At the same time, Plentitube is trying to sign up more media companies as subscribers to its service and charge them an annual fee in the mid-five figures to gain access to content. Currently, subscribers can log onto a private Web site and search a database of videos. A more advanced version of the site to be rolled out early next year will let subscribers search the database and track the progress of a transaction.

Cinemax is the company's first paying subscriber, but Pulver and Labes say they are in talks with General Electric's (GE) NBC and other companies. Plentitube also is trying to raise several million dollars in venture capital and bring on some more seasoned executives to round out its management team. "We're expecting a lot of deal flow with diminishing development budgets," says Labes, a former producer of Wallstrip, a daily financial Web show purchased by CBS (CBS) in May 2007.

One-Stop Content Shopping

Chris Spencer, senior vice-president and general manager of marketing and creative services for Cinemax, says Plentitube offers a useful service in an age where network executives see the opportunity of the Internet but don't have enough time to scour through YouTube. "You can get lost on the Internet," says Spencer. "Plentitube offers this one-stop-shopping model for content."

Despite Spencer's excitement, this is the first time the company has licensed content from an Internet producer. Cinemax is running the episodes of Eli's Dirty Jokes as "interstitial content" before its weekly Saturday night movie at 10. It aired the first of eight original episodes on Nov. 8 and also licensed 15 older episodes for its on-demand channel. In addition, the movie channel secured two options to order batches of 10 more episodes. If the episodes generate positive feedback, Spencer says the company will probably order more.

Although Spencer believes upstarts such as Plentitube are not going to put the big talent agencies out of business anytime soon, he says they have a good shot at playing an important role in the entertainment industry. "Plentitube offers a very interesting model," he says. "If you find good stuff on a consistent basis, we will form a long-term relationship."


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