When C3 was first booting up in 2005, our circle of students would speak wistfully of how the Internet could have saved Joss Whedon's Firefly or Warren Ellis' Global Frequency. Although both of those properties seem to be dead or at least comatose, their creators have each announced new Internet-launched properties.
Last week the trailer and official website for Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog went live, as well as (of course) its official MySpace page and the more-or-less official fan site. The project, a spiritual follow-up to the incredibly popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode "Once More with Feeling", is a serialized superhero musical starring Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser, M.D.) and Whedonverse regular Nathan Fillion (Buffy, Firefly) as a hapless supervillain and the hero that plagues him. Business-centric readers of this blog, pay attention: the first of the show's three episodes will premiere at www.drhorrible.com on Tuesday, July 15, followed by the second on July 17, and the third on July 19, but all three episodes will only be available for free viewing on the site until July 20th. After that, the episodes will be available for "a nominal fee" (according to Whedon), which will then be followed up by a DVD with "the finest and bravest extras in all the land". More information has been promised to us at Comicon, but we Whedon fans are already champing at the bit.
Speaking of conventions, at last week's G.I. Joe collector's convention (JoeCon 2008) it was announced that Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Global Frequency) is writing a series of animated webisodes for adults. The miniseries, called G.I. Joe: Resolute, will consist of ten five-minute episodes and one ten-minute finale, and is scheduled to debut in the first quarter of 2009. The show will be much grittier in nature than any G.I. Joe cartoon yet, featuring guns that fire bullets instead of lasers and characters falling in combat, but "little to no blood shown". While it isn't clear whether or not these webisodes will tie into the live-action G.I. Joe movie set for release next summer, in the style of The Animatrix or Batman: Gotham Knight, the producers did say that they hoped to air the entire series someplace like the Cartoon Network or distribute it on DVD and that this is the direction Hasbro hopes to go with all of their brands.
While both of these projects seem to be following a fairly solid "web to DVD" model, it's far from the only business strategy being kicked around. Another intriguing alternative was announced this morning by Google, who has struck a deal with Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane concerning his next project, "Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy." According to the New York Times:
Google will syndicate the program using its AdSense advertising system to thousands of Web sites that are predetermined to be gathering spots for Mr. MacFarlane's target audience, typically young men. Instead of placing a static ad on a Web page, Google will place a "Cavalcade" video clip.
Advertising will be incorporated into the clips in varying ways. In some cases, there will be "preroll" ads, which ask viewers to sit through a TV-style commercial before getting to the video. Some advertisers may opt for a banner to be placed at the bottom of the video clip or a simple "brought to you by" note at the beginning.
Mr. MacFarlane, who will receive a percentage of the ad revenue, has created a stable of new characters to star in the series, which will be served up in 50 two-minute episodes.
What's doubly interesting about the project is the reason MacFarlane cites for moving to the web. According to the article, MacFarlane felt "feeling constrained by the 'taste police,' a k a the Federal Communications Commission." Given how raunchy Family Guy is to start with, I can only imagine that this new project will be something the late George Carlin would have been proud of.
As C3 followers well know, all three of these creators have had experience with alternative distribution methods of content before Whedon's fans turned the fallen Firefly into the feature film Serenity; Ellis' fans built up a huge amount of buzz around the failed pilot of his Global Frequency when it leaked onto the web and he is currently posting weekly installments of the web-only comic Freakangels to http://www.freakangels.com/; and MacFarlane's Family Guy was brought back from the dead due to fan support. To say that we could have worse canaries in this coal mine would be an understatement.