Ms. Douglas said she has had the idea to partner with brands for more than a decade, watching how studio movies, network TV shows and even independent film, where she made a name for herself in films like To Die for and Ghost World, blocked out actors for vapid reality programming and plot lines geared for a male-only audience.
When she first told her friends she was going to make a Web show sponsored by Ikea, “it was very, very controversial with people,” she told The Observer. “People had no idea why I was doing this and asking why would I do this instead of doing a movie. I said, ‘Well, you know, Ikea is the 400th most viewed Web site in the world.’ Who cares about NBC and CBS, I said, if you can get them to show your show in an IKEA.”
Ms. Douglas is writing a movie and is considering several spin-off Web shows, along with the third season of Easy to Assemble, all under the Ikea umbrella—as if it were its own production studio.
“We’re on the precipice of something incredibly good or incredibly bad,” Ms. Douglas said, now that TV executives are interested in copying her kind of online entertainment model. “You don’t want studio people to lure advertising dollars to say, ‘Listen, if you give me a million, I’ll do whatever the hell you want.’ You don’t want it to just be about the money. It’s Pandora’s box.”
“It’s a very entrepreneurial space, which unlike television or film, which is a bit more kind of obvious in how you get a show made—there’s not really any set rules yet,” said Thomas Bannister, head of new media production and distribution company SXM, who helped lure IKEA into working with Easy to Assemble and licensed the first season with CBS Interactive’s TV.com. This year, he is the executive producer of NBC’s original Web show CTRL, starring Tony Hale (who you may remember playing the bumbling Buster Bluth in Arrested Development) as a nerdy office guy with a magical keyboard. In short, 5-minute segments, Mr. Hale’s character controls, and can even “undo,” real-life events just by typing a couple of keys. Originally a short film that screened at 2008’s Sundance Film Festival, the project was picked up by Mr. Bannister and brought to NBC, where Coca-Cola’s Nestea signed on to sponsor the Web series. “It’s not that new; I think that whenever a new media arises and people interact with it, like with radio and television and now the Internet, you’re gonna get this model,” Mr. Bannister said.
Cameron Death, vice president for NBC’s digital studio, produced CTRL and will release three more completely original Web shows under NBC by the end of the year. “What we’re not doing is creating six-minute ads,” he said.
He said the right model is one where trust is brokered on both sides—the brands let the creatives be creative, and the creatives, in return, are careful not to tarnish the brand.
“It’s not for everyone. It’s not for every brand, it’s not for every agency. We want to make sure that that relationship is right so we’re not getting into debates on set with talent there. Nothing good would come from that,” Mr. Death said.
As far as this kind of Web model moving on to TV screens? “I think that could happen, but where I try to frame the discussion on success is not necessarily about graduating to the television. We have enough scale on those digital platforms based on their viewership. That would be an interesting experiment, but it’s not our mandate.”
Sounds like work for the Ben Silverman Experiment, part two.