Tomorrow Will Be Televised: Some Money in the Crowd

Mobcaster Will the next generation of TV get off the ground if venture capitalists, angel investors and the growing incubator/accelerator crowd continue their sideline posture over funding any venture with a TV set attached?

The outlook may appear not. However, a cavalry out to save this generation's day may show up from another direction: the direction of crowdfunding or crowdsourcing. It's as direct a process as it gets. You appeal to the public for seed funding on your venture, and you get a month or two for the appeal. You raise the money on time, you go forward. You don't, whatever money you do raise goes back to the donors. Simple as that.

Kickstarter has, in a short time, become the crowdfunding brand of record, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for all sorts of worthy projects. Recent adoption of federal legislation with crowdfund provisions is accelerating interest from entrepreneurs in public appeals. As long as fraud doesn't erupt somehow, all signs point to even more millions available via this route.

Which brings us to Mobcaster, a Kickstarter-like Web outpost devoted to TV efforts. Created about a year ago by Aubrey Levy, a former HBO executive working on digital media, Mobcaster gets nowhere near the attention of Kickstarter by either the media or the TV industry. (Point of disclosure: Levy was a guest on Tomorrow Will Be Televised, my BlogTalk Radio-distributed program, after we connected at Social Media Week in New York.) Still, without all that attention, people responding to Mobcaster's Web site have donated more than $110,000 in seed cash to TV pilot and series proposals.

Like Kickstarter, every TV project showcased on Mobcaster has a set time to raise money. If the money comes through and a pilot or series is made, Mobcaster gets first rights to run that pilot or program. After that run, the producers can sell their work to any outlet they want and keep the revenues off that sale.

The big results so far:

  • $74,000 for The Weatherman, a sitcom pilot entered in the 2010 New York Television Festival. This entry from Australia will now become a series, premiere date on Mobcaster coming soon.
  • $15,000 for Back To Your Senses, an adventure documentary pilot.
  • $5,000 for Pretty Undead, a comedy pilot involving high school-age female vampires.
  • Another $5,000 going to Underbelly, a Crash-like drama on the interconnected lives of several Los Angeles citizens.

Seperately, the makers of Drifter, a science fiction pilot highlighted on Mobcaster, were contacted by Hollywood producers in this midst of their seed drive, based on exposure from the site and online buzz about the concept. Negotiations on a pilot or series deal continue.

Back at Kickstarter, where a few online video pilots have launched with money raised there, a TV situation has emerged. Sawdust, described as a 3D family-friendly drama pilot about circus life in a Texas dustbowl town during the 1930s Depression, is on the clock to raise $100,000. More than $2,000 has been raised to date, with less than 30 days remaining. (Second disclosure point: Sawdust executive producer Anthony Coogan, son of Jackie Coogan, child star in the silent film era and Uncle Fester on The Addams Family, and producer rep Rex Weiner were on Tomorrow this past Monday, discussing their effort.) Dramas or comedies with a circus background have not fared well in TV history. Would you believe The Greatest Show On Earth, the last try at it, was in 1963 and cancelled after one season? For those of you bringing up Carnivale, HBO's own surreal depiction of dustbown times that ran two seasons (2003-05), remember that the setting involved a traveling carnival, not a circus per se. Can Sawdust break the gloomy outlook for both 3DTV and scripted circus series? Leave it to you.

On another front, a number of TV conferences this fall from Digital Hollywood and other organizers will spend considerable (and valuable in more ways than one) time on crowdfunding.

There's a lot of promise in play with this direction. We've yet to see a project graduate from idea to pilot to series to must-see TV. We'll know how great, or not, crowdfunding can be as a tool for TV's next generation upon graduation... or the lack of it.

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!