Startup Aims to Let Viewers Pick the Pilots to Make Into TV Shows
I’d Watch That has backing from media veterans including William Randolph Hearst III and Barry Schuler
By Shalini Ramachandran
Nov. 4, 2015 12:39 p.m. ET
TV networks shell out a lot of money to find a popular show.
Now a new startup called I’d Watch That, which is backed by a
couple of big names in media and technology, wants to “crowd source” hits for TV.
Founded by serial media entrepreneur Tom Zito, the startup has created
a website for any aspiring TV producer to upload short “sizzle”
videos to be ranked by the site’s users. The top-ranked producers
will receive $25,000 to make a short pilot of a potential television series.
The company will then pitch those pilots to TV networks, production
companies and streaming services, offering up the added bonus of
demographic and audience data gathered from the site about the
types of people that already liked the show.
Producers have to be willing to add Big Picture, the parent company
of I’d Watch That, on as a co-producer for shows that it finances,
with a stake in the eventual profits. Big Picture is backed by
a group of investors including William Randolph Hearst III, chairman
of Hearst Corp.; former America Online Inc. Chief Executive Barry Schuler
Inspiration Ventures; and John Fisher, partner at venture-capital
firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson.
Some TV executives say they’re intrigued by the idea and believe
it could help networks bring more data smarts to an antiquated
process for picking which shows to produce.
“I think it’s a very interesting concept,” said NBCUniversal’s
head of research Alan Wurtzel. He said the “failure rate” of
shows on television is about 75% to 80%, including those that never
meet or exceed networks’ expectations. Given that the percentage
is growing due to fierce competition and more ways than ever to
watch content, networks are looking for anything that will give
them “even a little bit of an edge” in “a world of constant
disruption,” he said.
For decades, the process of making television shows has largely
been the same: ideas reach TV networks and studios through Hollywood
agents and established creators, and tastemakers decide what makes the
cut. While Amazon.com Inc.
Prime Instant Video has tried to democratize its show-picking
process by offering up pilots to its users to rate, show ideas
have continued to arrive in the old-fashioned way to Amazon
and other streaming disrupters.
Of late, TV executives including CBS CEO Les Moonves have worried
that the explosion of original programming is causing a shortage
“If you take down the moat that currently exists around TV development,
you can find really creative people that would otherwise not be
discovered by either the studios or the networks,” Mr. Zito said.
I’d Watch That asks users to watch two videos at a time and pick
which one they like best. It asks people to volunteer personal
details including city, state, gender, ZIP Code, email address
and birth month and year for the purpose of analyzing the audiences
of top-ranked clips.
After each voting period—which will last about three months—creators
of the top “sizzles” will receive $25,000 to make a short pilot.
The pilots will again be put to the test among the site’s community
for the purpose of gathering detailed audience data on each of
them, and then Big Picture will shop the pilots and data to broadcast
and cable networks, streaming services and production companies.
The startup’s backers concede that it won’t be able to completely
bypass the ultimate tastemakers at the major outlets who will
decide what to green-light. In an interview, Mr. Hearst said he
views the site as a sort of Kickstarter for TV shows that will
work in concert with the old model.
“You can’t do away with the pitching part of the process and the
tastemaker part,” Mr. Hearst said. “I think this is just a way
to get your ear to the ground of newer ideas” to “turbocharge the old model.”
Big Picture will seek to make money by getting a cut of the shows
it finances, and Mr. Hearst also said the company could sell its
data to TV networks. For instance, if viewers on the site are
gravitating toward certain period dramas or workplace comedies,
the site could offer up that information to networks scouring
for shows. The company said it has raised “millions” of dollars
but declined to be more specific.
Mr. Zito’s earlier startups include a similar gig in the music
space, Garageband.com, which after some travails and reincarnations
was sold to MySpace in 2009. He also co-founded Integrated Media
Measurement Inc., a firm that sought to measure the reach of ads
across television and radio and was later sold to Arbitron, a
company now owned by Nielsen.
Mr. Zito said his goal is to approach the networks six months
from now after having made a first round of pilots. “Either we’ll
turn out to be geniuses or fools—we’ll find out,” Mr. Zito said.
Shalini Ramachandran at firstname.lastname@example.org