by Mark Glaser, January 31, 2007
Everything about the Ask a Ninja videoblog phenomenon smacks of a new form of entertainment. Two guys in Los Angeles produce a series of simple, low cost video clips where a ninja character answers profound and ridiculous questions. The comedic series gets popular as a video podcast through iTunes, with viewership of 300,000 to 500,000 per episode, and the show's web presence branches out to include an online store for merchandise.
But when the Ask a Ninja creators, Kent Nichols and Douglas Sarine, wanted to get serious about making money as entertainers, they went the old school route and hired the behemoth United Talent Agency (UTA). Recently that representation bore fruit as the pair signed on with Federated Media to have the ad network sell advertising on Ask a Ninja in a revenue-sharing deal worth $300,000 per year (if the site maintains its popularity).
"It's not an accident we've set up under a Hollywood model and not a Silicon Valley model," Nichols told me via email. "UTA is much better at negotiating than I am. And they only make money when we make money, so they are extremely motivated to get us the best deal possible. Creators are never going to have enough clout on their own to negotiate better deals with the YouTubes of the world. We tried making deals without agents and they failed miserably because we didn't know what to ask for or how to ask for it. Agents save you a lot of time and effort."
UPDATE: The newish anchor on Rocketboom, Joanne Colan, emailed me just after my deadline with her own experience with agents. The videoblogger is a veteran of TV, and said she has always been the one to get the projects, and then hired an agent to finalize the deals. Here's her view of how agencies have been swarming the Net:
I have witnessed the buzz in Hollywood in the past six months among agencies who seem to have quickly thrown together new-media units within their alternative programming divisions. Within the agency structure, again in only very recent months, it seems, movie and TV studios, networks and casting directors are seeking the next new face or the next sure-seller project among online content. Agents are scooping up as many online projects as they can in order to take charge and sign deals between their existing clients and their brand new shiny Internet ones. For the "kid" who was making low budget content in his/her bedroom and getting it online, receiving calls from Hollywood and being offered fancy agent contracts can indeed be very exciting.
It can be a great relationship and a very necessary one to boot when the right agent is passionate and head-over-heels excited about what you do, has really done their homework, understands your talents and dreams as well as your shortcomings (as if they had been your psychiatrist for the past few years), and is hungry like a grizzly bear who just woke up from winter hibernation.