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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Is Dr. Horrible the Future?

It's only got 3 acts and the free version of all 3 acts will vaporize from the web this Sunday at midnight, but Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible is definitely--as he describes it--an Internet Miniseries Event.

For something dreamed up during the Writer's Strike and ultimately, more or less, the length of a sitcom episode, the hype on Whedon's project was high. The response was so overwhelming for the first act, it wasn't till sometime into day two of release that the Dr. Horrible site was back up after crashing the first day.

What's probably one of the best takeways is how, even though the novelity of Dr. Horrible being on the internets was a key PR/distribution component, Whedon and crew have seriously treated the launch of Dr. Horrible.

They did so by one, using names--with cult like status, two, limiting the window to less than a week, and three, doing the press rounds no differently than if Dr. Horrrible was a network show. Whedon and crew have treated Dr. Horrible like a credible property and not just a neat experiment. The fact that Whedon seriously looked at the potential bonanza of ancillary products (T-shirts, stickers, statutes, etc) speaks even more volumes about the seriousness he treated this project.

Now, here's where Dr. Horrible truly could be the harbinger of things to come. With XBox, the PS3, Roku and Vudu all entering the fray to deliver content to your TV via the web, we could definitely see not only more Dr. Horrible like events, but films, indie films in particular, could benefit.

Imagine a film debuts at Sundance and it generates amazing buzz. Instead of a normal distribution deal, it goes straight to the web and it's a Free Mini Event that goes through Netflix and is downloadable to over 15 million XBox's and Roku's. Getting just a few thousand of those eyeballs in the first 24-48 hours of release maybe enough buzz to generate true revenue from the DVD sales and digital downloads once the film is no longer free.

The one thing most Sundance films can't capitalize on is the large amount of press they receive. By the time they hit theaters, or even DVD, 6 months to a year has passed for most films. In that time frame they've lost all momentum. Interested audiences have fixated on other films, or, worse, still craving to see a film, never learn when and where a film is playing till long after its hit their local indie theater. And you can't discount the impact the downsizing of Entertainment Journalism has. Once a piece has been written on your film it's rare that same outlet is going to do another in depth piece at time of release.

Up until the late 1980s, there were few TV projects that could generate advance buzz, or final audience numbers, like a Mini-Series. Only something like Maude's abortion, Ellen's Puppy Episode, Dallas's Who Shot Jr? and M*A*S*H's finale could generate so much notice before a show aired. But, those were established shows, with some kind investment from audiences.

Mini-Series Events that incorporate a well publicized launch date and window, could recapture the magic of a Roots or a North and South.

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