Sony Series Will Start on Web

Sony Series Will Start on Web

June 16, 2008; Page B1

Sony Corp. will launch its new show “Angel of Death” on the Web, but it is using an approach that it hopes will drive sales of DVDs and boost other distribution avenues down the road.

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Sony’s efforts to harness the online market include series that run on its site.

The company’s plan marks Hollywood’s latest attempt to harness the Internet’s tremendous power to spread entertainment without losing out on revenue.

“Angel,” scheduled for release early next year, tells the story of an assassin who is so haunted by her victims that she decides to kill the people who ordered the hits, one by one.

The series will be released online eight minutes at a time, over 10 weeks, on various Sony-affiliated Web sites. After the Internet run, Sony will release a traditional DVD of the series, adding scenes to tie the pieces together in a movie-like way.

Big names from former Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Michael Eisner to actor Will Ferrell have backed Internet programming ventures. But they have yet to generate meaningful cash flow.

“We all tend to overthink this stuff,” says Steve Mosko, president, Sony Pictures Television, about made-for-Internet programming. “If you can figure out some ways to plug it into traditional business models, spend a few bucks, maybe you can make high-quality work for the Internet.”

The budget for “Angel” is just more than $1 million — less than many direct-to-DVD titles but high by Internet standards.

In addition to generating some ad revenue on the Web, Sony hopes that launching the show online will translate into strong sales for the DVD, much as a good start in theaters builds DVD sales for feature movies.

“We’re not expecting to make all our money back in that initial [online] window,” says Sean Carey, senior executive vice president, Sony Pictures Television.

Certainly, the direct-to-DVD business can be extremely profitable, with a few live-action titles grossing more than $30 million from DVD sales. These successes tend to be spinoffs of better-known franchises, however, such as those based on the feature movie “American Pie” from General Electric Co.’s Universal Pictures. The average live-action direct-to-DVD movie grosses in the low to mid-seven figures.

Sony typically releases about 100 direct-to-DVD titles annually. Next year, four to six will follow the “Angel” model, with big chunks of them appearing online first. The online titles will go through the entire Sony distribution machine, with the company peddling them, for example, as TV movies of the week in markets around the world.

The company has been working hard to crack the online market. One initiative, a Web site called, features both professional and user-generated content selected by Sony editors. Some of it comes in episodes that mimic TV shows, such as the dark-comedy series “Mr. Deity.” Sony also has gained traction with its so-called minisodes — popular TV shows edited down to versions of four to six minutes, designed for online or cellphone viewing.

Other efforts to shift back and forth between old and new distribution platforms have produced uneven results.

“Quarterlife,” the online series from the producers of the hit 1980s TV show “thirtysomething,” tried to make the move to NBC broadcast television earlier this year, but it was yanked after attracting just a handful of viewers on its first airing.

Critics say the low broadcast audience proves made-for-online series just don’t translate to television.

One recent success story is the low-budget “Jackass 2.5,” the latest in a series of “Jackass” movies from Viacom Inc.’s Paramount. The studio used the film to test a smorgasbord of distribution strategies late last year. Instead of releasing it into theaters, Paramount relied on free online streaming, following up quickly with DVD availability and paid ad-free downloads.

The company sold well over a million DVDs and believes the film is a model for future projects. “We hope to release two to three [similar projects] a year, as well as original long-form digital content,” says Thomas Lesinski, president for Paramount’s digital entertainment group.

Write to Sarah McBride at

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