Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Interview with Peter Hoskins, ManiaTV
The convergence of the Internet and the entertainment business has made Los Angeles a hotbed of activity in the online entertainment industry, attracting companies from all over the country interested in connecting Hollywood with the Internet. Los Angeles-based ManiaTV (www.maniatv.com) is one of the companies, having moved here in 2007 from Denver to take advantage of the local talent. We spoke to the firm's CEO, Peter Hoskins, about how the company is making a business out of original programming for the Internet.
For those not familiar with ManiaTV, what does your company do?
Peter Hoskins: Mania TV sells, produces, packages, and distributes original programming on the Internet and other new media platforms. It's primarily Internet and mobile devices. We were founded in 2004, and just passed our 1,600th day last Friday. We started as a live, 24/7 television network--really live, 24/7--168 hours a week of live TV. CNN isn't even that live. We have evolved through this time to produce some of the best, short form programming in the video game, music, and comedy segments, which is the core of our viewers, and what we're known for. We've grown our audience considerably, and it's a fairly even mix of guys and girls watching our staff, although there's slightly more guys. We program for shows that meet the 18 to 34 year old demographic, with things most relevant to them. We sell advertising and have been very fortunate to have the best brands advertise on our network. 90 of the top 200 brands have advertised with ManiaTV through our history.
You moved here recently, didn't you?
Peter Hoskins: In 2007, we took a fantastic soundstage at Pico and Fairfax. It's pretty historic, it's where the Kool Aid Acid Test took place, and was the B-set for Gilligan's Island. We came here at the end of 2007, and pulled the plug on Denver and set up shop here to be close to the best talent--whether that's in front of the camera, camera operators, producers, editing staff, etc. It's where the heart and soul of entertainment happens, and its played out exceptionally well.
You're also venture backed, correct?
Peter Hoskins: We are actually at a time where we're moving out of the venture backed stage, and we're actually selling and living off what we do. We started, obviously, some time ago, and raised a fair amount of capital to build our business. Now, we're at the point where when we launch a show, they are profitable. Most of what we do is consistently profitable, by design. We've transition from that early-stage startup, where a company uses investment capital--to being one very business minded, and thoughtful about how we spend our money--where we bring in more on a monthly basis than we spend.
What's the formula to make money in online video?
Peter Hoskins: We've built a way to do business, and rethought the idea around the format, and honed in on things that work. The things that work for us, mean they build an audience. We build a platform, and are not just remaking traditional television, but thinking about a format which is intimate and engaging, by design. What we've done is figure out the things that work to increase our hit percentage. We don't have lots of capital to put into a show that doesn't make it to air, so we test our shows. For example, five of our shows, and two more that are in development, started out as two minute segments on another show. Our development process includes asking the audience what works, and things that make it through the development process and become a show are first vetted by the audience. Plus, they already have an advertiser, and have a business plan associated so that we can succeed at a pretty high level.
Is part of this producing things for much less than Hollywood?
Peter Hoskins: Without question. We can do so without spending thousands of dollars for shows. But, quite honestly, you could put us up against our broadcast brothers, and strip away the branding, and you couldn't really tell. Our production quality--how it's shot, lit, edited, and produced--is good as anything in the marketplace.
How has the economy impacted advertising for you?
Peter Hoskins: What's great about all the challenges the advertising industry is having, is it has forced a bright light on the fundamental problem in advertising. At the low end, it can be commoditized, and doesn't deliver to advertisers what they hope and need for their business. If you're looking at the online advertising space, it's low end, and at the lower end of the spectrum--and it's under a lot of pressure. But, what isn't taking a hit, and what you see publishers of content like what ManiaTV distributes, is high value and high impact. It's still where money is being spent--where quality rules.
What's your model for your producers--are they independent, or in-house?
Peter Hoskins: One major impetus to move to LA was the fantastically talented people. Some are employees, and many other are partners. Before moving here, we produced everything ourselves, distributed everything ourselves, and sold it ourself. By coming here, we now have a facility in the heart of the entertainment capita, with open arms, where we give talented creators a big hug. They can use our facility, and infrastructure, and share in the benefits. We provide them with access to an audience, distribution, and access to advertisers. Creators now have a platform to launch their business. We are made to work with third party producers, made to work with third party distributors, and are even finding these days that third party producers also might happen to have advertisers associated with the products coming to us for access to our audience. We're even working with third parties to bring advertisers in. We've abstracted the business, and have gotten the scale you really need to have, which an independent producer can't have by themselves. They get scale when they work with us, and an audience.
From your standpoint, where are things now and when will the Internet take over from TV?
Peter Hoskins: We're more about entertainment than a technology, platform, or wire. Whether it's delivered over the air, over a cable wire, or across the Internet--it's still entertainment. What's absolutely true, however, is that audiences are now fragmented. It used to be that the Cosby Show had nearly 50 million viewers on Thursday at 8pm. Those times are gone. Now, it's more common to see the top five shows in any given primetime slot, might amass an audience similar to what Cosby did all by himself a couple of decades ago. Fragmentation rules. The way you aggregate your audience needs to change. That's what I think we're doing differently. It's entertainment when they want, and how they want it.