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Experts Tackle What Linear Can Learn From Digital

Santa Monica, Calif. — If you need an example of just how much the internet has threatened the old ways of Hollywood, look no further than Cameron Dallas.

The internet personality, who rose to fame using the video app Vine and has collected nearly 10 million followers to date, got his own film (Expelled) thanks to media and entertainment company AwesomenessTV, and following its theatrical release in 2014, it became the top-selling digital title, beating out the likes of Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer and Guardians of the Galaxy.

And the best part? “We spent exactly zero on media [and marketing],” said AwesomenessTV president Brett Bouttier, speaking June 2 at a content creators panel held by production coalition group PactUS.

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Josh Entman, cofounder and chief development officer for multiplatform media and entertainment company Jukin Media, couldn’t agree more. There used to be a stigma among legacy content companies when it came to user-generated content. But studios and TV producers are catching up, seeing that all those millions of YouTube fans aren’t going anywhere. And there’s plenty of money to be made from non-traditional sources, what he jokingly calls “accidental content producer.”

“They don’t tell stories, they don’t have any real thoughts, they just catch lightening in a bottle,” he said, noting that Jukin has paid out more than $5 million over the years for that type of accidental content.

Jennifer O’Connell, head of alternative programming for Lionsgate, is among those hip to what’s happening today with content. And instead of just producing original series for digital outlets like Hulu and Netflix, they’ve done things like partnering up with comedian Kevin Hart to launch an exclusive VOD channel, and hooked up with Comic Con to launch a dedicated fandom VOD service, Comic-Con HQ.

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“They’re another way to get our content made and seen,” she said. “[But] we have to be smart about it.”

Ad dollars continue to move away from TV and into digital content, and it’s adapt or die for traditional content creators, according to MTV original content head Michael Klein. “We’re going after the millennials just like everyone else,” he said, specifically the 21-year-olds, because “they’re going through a lot of firsts in life,” he added. And to catch those younger viewers, content companies need to “speak to them across platforms,” something Klein said he doesn’t believe linear does well at all.

“A hit show isn’t enough,” he said. “You need to respect the [viewer’s] needs … and each social network needs to be treated differently.”

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And for digital-first content creators, don’t make the mistakes that linear TV producers tend to make, Bouttier added. “A lot of legacy businesses protect against failure,” he said. “At AwesomenessTV we embrace it.” Bouttier isn’t saying that failure is the goal with programming, only that there’s nothing wrong with it, especially when there’s a low costs associated with new pilots.

“If we make a pilot for $10,000 and it doesn’t work, ‘next!’” he said, adding that digital outlets like his have no problem handing first-time, 24-year-old directors a camera, a small budget, and a lot of freedom.