Internet TV platform Babelgum has always pitched itself as serving the interests of independent video producers who want to find and connect with niche audiences. By tapping into the Long Tail, the company maintains it’s possible to “find an audience that rivals or exceeds the mainstream TV audience in any local market.” Having run an online film festival of its own – with the public face of film director Spike Lee, no less – Babelgum recently redesigned its Internet TV application and accompanying website around three communities of content: Films & Festivals, Motorcycling and Nature & Conservation, along with the usual social networking bells and whistles (member profiles, messaging, discussion groups and content recommendations).
But, perhaps more significantly, Babelgum has also crossed a line, moving away from being purely a content distributor to also commissioning original and exclusive content of its own. Last month, the company announced plans to set up a $10+ million production fund, telling Variety that Babelgum was “transforming into a digital media studio.”
The first of those commissions was revealed today, according to another Variety report. “Oil Sands,” is a feature-length environmental documentary about the threatened Athabasca Oil Sands region in Alberta, Canada. The project will be produced by Insomnia Media Group, Emmy-award winning producer Philip Alberstat and Emmy-nominee Randy Bradshaw. Variety says the budget will be “in the mid six figure dollars range.”
“Oil Sands” will be available through the Babelgum platform in the form of 15-20 minutes clips, which, as paidContent points out, means that the company is “paying big bucks for long-form content it will then cut up in to short clips.” Although, Babelgum hasn’t ruled out monetizing its own content through other channels such as licensing to other distributors or DVD sales.
“We’re not going to turn into a studio overnight,” Babelgum director of content Mark Cranwell tells Variety. “We’ll be picking and choosing our projects on the basis of getting the most amount of attention to the widest public possible on issues, such as the environment, which are important to Babelgum. This was a good starting point.”
One of the major criticisms of Internet TV platforms such as Babelgum and rival Joost et al. is the lack of exclusive or compelling content. Original commissions such as “Oil Sands” ticks the first box, although we’ll have to wait and see if it turns out to be anything like a ‘must watch’. Having said that, I applaud Babelgum for trying its hand at being a movie mogul – akin to the way UK broadcaster Channel Four has flirted with film production – and I can certainly think of worse ways to spend Babelgum founder Silvio Scaglia’s billions of dollars.