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New! Trey Parker & Matt Stone Join Shockwave.com to Produce Original Online Animation

Reuters Headlines: Flash comics on the way

Nov. 8 NY Times article

 

 

ZOW! BLAST! POWWIE!
Cartoons aren't relegated to static two-dimensional panels anymore, thanks to a new breed of cartoonists using Flash animation software which allows creators to incorporate sound, motion and interactivity with ease and automation never before this accessible to anyone outside of a network TV-grade Quantel production booth. Say goodbye to the familiar old word balloon, our rotund, tailed friend for over 100 years, as new Flash cartoons allow cartoonists to incorporate MP3-quality audio into their works, delivered right to viewers' PCs over a 56K modem. One shining example of these colorful, innovative new series is The Von Ghouls, at http://vonghouls.com an irresistably funny romp through the exploits of a travelling band of ghoulish punkrockers, with a nostalgic tip of the hat to 70s Saturday morning toons. The kicker is the original song including in every episode, something not seen in a cartoon series since Gerald Ford's band-aided forehead graced our boobtubes...

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Wednesday December 8, 8:02 am Eastern Time - Company Press Release - SOURCE: shockwave.com, Inc.

Trey Parker & Matt Stone Join Shockwave.com to Produce Original Online Animation
Deal Represents Benchmark in Online Content and Programming

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 8 /PRNewswire/ -- shockwave.com, together with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, today announced an unprecedented agreement to develop a series of original animated shorts for the Internet for shockwave.com. As part of the deal, Parker and Stone retain total artistic control. The new programming is scheduled to debut in March 2000 at www.shockwave.com to an audience of tens of millions.

The William Morris Agency's Corporate Advisory/New Media Department and the law firm of Barnes, Morris & Yorn initiated the deal with Michael Yanover at Shockwave. (Photo: NewsCom: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/19990921/MACRLOGO ) With this deal, Trey and Matt return to short-form animation -- the medium that spawned overnight success for the South Park prototype ``The Spirit of Christmas.''

Trey & Matt will create 39 original animated shorts for the Internet in Flash format, each with an average running time of 2-5 minutes. Fans of the duo's immensely popular animation work will have a ball at shockwave.com with brand new programming that Trey & Matt are currently developing. Since its debut on Comedy Central in 1997, South Park has become a runaway hit and has garnered a CableACE for Best Animated Series.

Trey & Matt's new programming for the Internet will complement the South Park pieces already found on shockwave.com. The new short features can be viewed for free with Macromedia's Flash Player which boasts an installed consumer audience of more than 180 million worldwide. After the anticipated March 2000 debut of the new programming, viewers will be able to tune in regularly to experience newly updated animation pieces. Matt Stone said, ``Because of Macromedia Flash technology, the ability to deliver animated comedy over the Web is light years ahead of live action, and that excites the hell out of us.'' ``We think this is a watershed deal and we're thrilled to be breaking ground with Trey and Matt,'' said Rob Burgess, chairman and CEO of Macromedia. Trey Parker added, ``Yeah, we think this Internet thing could be pretty big.''

``Trey & Matt not only get it, they are it -- real trendsetters in today's popular culture,'' said Mike Simpson, executive vice-president and co-worldwide motion picture head of William Morris. ``The fit is right, and we believe shockwave.com has the reach, depth and real value that high level creators need in today's dot com world. Our intent is that some of the stories and characters debuting as shorts on shockwave.com will move into episodic television and feature film formats and this relationship gives Trey & Matt an unprecedented ability to move between various platforms and to cross promote.'' Kevin Morris of the law firm Barnes, Morris & Yorn, said: ``It seems like everyone from Silicon Valley to Wall Street and back to Hollywood has long predicted that entertainment content on the Internet would be the next growth industry. Well, that day is here, the model for an actual visual media content deal has been created and no one should be surprised by the players.'' Lewis Henderson, William Morris VP, Head of New Media, added: ``This is the most comprehensive and, arguably, the most significant content deal on the Internet. We're delighted to have played such an integral role in bringing Trey, Matt and shockwave.com together.''

Michael Yanover, business development executive at shockwave.com, said: ``We believe that, with this deal, Trey and Matt have pioneered what will be a steady migration of star talent to the Internet and to shockwave.com.'' In addition to debuting the new programming in March, shockwave.com will feature the new characters and the new shorts in other popular shockwave.com games, greetings, puzzles and creative content tools.


Can the Internet Save Comics?
By Scott Hillis LOS ANGELES (Reuters)
Step aside, Superman. Move over, Wonder Woman. The Streak and Imitatia are some of the new names in town. And they're not just any old superheroes -- they're wired, too. Faced with falling sales and waning interest, the industry that gave the world the superhero is struggling to hold its ground against the encroachment of television, computers and video games. But rather than waiting for a muscle-bound hero in colorful tights to leap to the rescue, the creators and sellers of comics are fighting back themselves, using the Internet to reassert their relevance and win over new legions of fans.

Take Stan Lee, creator of Spiderman, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Lee, also honorary chairman of Marvel Comics, is behind StanLee.Net, a comics Web site that will marry original stories and characters with Web animation tricks to draw the latest battleground for good and evil to duke it out. Set to launch in January, the site's showcase will be ``The Seventh Portal'', in which seven heroes from different countries (The Streak hails from Japan, Imitatia from India) combat seven villains in another dimension accessible through the Internet. Superhero Mini-Movies ``When we launch, we will establish at that moment that the Internet is a viable, stand-alone entertainment medium,'' Lee told Reuters in an interview. Apart from ``The Seventh Portal'', several other characters are being developed for stories that will be updated weekly, Lee said.

``What we're attempting to do is to see to it that every day on the Web site there will be some superhero strip, some fantasy strip, so that every day people will have good reason to tune into our site,'' he said. Based in a former bank in Encino, Calif., the company has recruited more than 50 employees -- from writing and drawing talent to programmers proficient with computer animation tools that will breathe life into Lee's creations. Macromedia Inc. (NasdaqNM:MACR - news), the company that develops Flash animation software, is an investor. ``These are all going to involve a tremendous amount of animation. These are not going to be still pictures. They're animated superhero mini-movies, really,'' Lee said.

Unknown artists are also using the Internet to display their works, demonstrating that -- like garage musicians gaining exposure via MP3 music downloads and armchair stock analysts holding forth on message boards -- you don't have to be a professional to get your name out there. Stephen Rice, an accountant in San Francisco, produces an online graphic novel called ``The Gifted'', at http://www.thegifted.com. Other sites, like B-Radical.com of Ottawa, Ontario, and WebComix.com, run ongoing stories or daily comic strips that may never have seen the light of day given the way the industry works.

THE AMAZON.COM OF COMICS?
Once upon a time, North America boasted 8,000 comic book stores. Falling readership and tight margins have slashed that to about 4,000. Some 40 percent of a brick-and-mortar comic store's floor space is unprofitable. Titles that are not sold cannot be returned, so owners are unlikely to gamble on an unknown title or artist. Dave Scott, founder of NextPlanetOver.com, the biggest online comics retailer, hopes the Internet can skirt the tough economics of the industry. ``You're seeing an undersaturation of comic books and products,'' Scott said in a recent interview. Scott's original plan was to open a national chain of comic stores capable of reaching millions of customers. But then the World Wide Web took off, with Amazon.com leading the way for retailers. ``Offline, the category is very fragmented. There are no national chains. Online allows a single merchant to reach the entire nation, including geographies not well served, so there's an opportunity to grow the market as a whole,'' said Mike May, a digital commerce analyst with Jupiter Communications. Moreover, comics fans also tend to be Internet fans. ``What we found was that the particular customer that consumes comic books was twice as likely to be online than other consumers. They also tend to be high-technology early adopters,'' Scott said. NextPlanetOver stocks some 8,000 products, including nearly 5,000 comics titles, as well as toys, clothing, videos, art and trading cards. It is the e-commerce partner for Stan Lee's Web site, too. By weaving goodies such as chats and interviews with artists and writers into the site, Scott says NextPlanetOver visitors linger about four times longer than they do at other online retailers. ``Consumers are coming back every single day to take advantage of the content,'' Scott said.

The Story's The Thing
Lee, however, reads more into the decline of comics than just poor business practices. ``What happened with the comics industry is they began to make the stories too inaccessible,'' Lee said. Apart from reaching out to the world's youth through the Internet, Lee aims to resurrect the lost art of basic story-telling. ``The stories have lost a certain simplicity and ease of access, and for that reason they have lost many younger readers,'' Lee said. Others seem to be placing their faith in Lee, too. DC Comics, now owned by Warner Bros., a division of Time Warner Inc., wants him to write stories for its Superman and Batman comics -- business world rivals of Lee's Marvel characters. And Viacom Inc. may be interested in having Lee revamp its Mighty Mouse cartoon character with a new Web-based look and persona. ``We will join with other brands to revive elements of their franchises on the Internet, with Stan giving new meaning to the franchise,'' said Peter Paul, chief executive of Stan Lee Media. But few expect the demise of the old-fashioned comic book, despite the migration of the industry to cyberspace. Lee envisions leading his army of Internet characters out of the world of bits and bytes and into that of television cartoons, screen adaptations, and yes, old fashioned pulp and ink. ``There will always be a place for a story printed on paper,'' Lee said.

NEW YORK TIMES, TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 1999

Show Business Embraces Web, But Cautiously

By ANDREW POLLACK LOS ANGELES, Nov. 8

Regis and Kathie Lee, watch out. The hosts of a new talk show are none other than the Lord and Satan themselves. In "The God & Devil Show," they interview guests like John Wayne- one needn't be alive to be a guest on this show-and viewers then vote whether to send the guest to heaven or hell. The show, which features cartoon characters with realistic voices, is coming soon to a screen near you-a computer screen. It is scheduled to appear on Entertaindom.com, a Web site that the Warner Brothers studio is expected to start this month as the entertainment industry begins a bold attempt to turn the Internet into its next big medium.

Until now, Hollywood has used the Internet mainly to promote films and television programs, rather than to transmit them. But a growing number of players, from big studios to small entrepreneurs, are starting to provide entertainment on the Web, either by delivering existing movies and television shows or by creating programs specifically for online viewing. The efforts could allow for development of new types of interactive entertainment not possible on television and in movie theaters and could give voice to artists not seen or heard through those traditional media.

"It's as different from television as television is from radio," said Jim Banister, executive vice president of Warner Brothers Online. There are, however, formidable technical and business challenges. With standard modems, it can take hours to download a feature-length film onto a personal computer, and video usually appear in a small box on the screen with blurry images that often suddenly freeze. These problems will diminish as more people gain high-speed access to the Internet, though it is not clear even then whether people will want to watch shows at their desks rather than from the sofa. And as happened when home video recording appeared on the scene, much of Hollywood is wary of the new technology, seeing it as much as a threat as an opportunity. Jack Valenti, the industry's chief lobbyist, said in Congressional testimony recently that piracy of movies over the Internet could "dwarf" the existing problem.

Another concern is that program creators can communicate directly with audiences, bypassing the studios. Hollywood got a taste of that when "The Blair Witch Project," a low-budget movie by unknown filmmakers, became a huge hit after an Internet publicity campaign. "You're basically your own TV station," said Joseph Shields, 38, of Grand Rapids, Mich., who failed as a comic strip creator but who has gained a cult following on the Web with his offbeat interactive cartoons, like the one in which a foul-mouthed frog in a blender taunts the viewer into grinding him up. Mr. Shields's cartoons, or word of them, have spread like wildfire through e-mail, and his Web site, www.joecartoon.com, gets as many as 500,000 hits a day.

Bit players like Mr. Shields have led the way; a dozen or more Web sites, for instance, already show movies by independent filmmakers who have trouble getting their work into theaters. But now, heavyweights are jumping in. America Online announced a $30 million investment last week in the Web site of Blockbuster Inc., the video rental unit of Viacom. The investment is aimed in part at developing video for Internet delivery. And the Seagram Company, owner of Universal Studios, recently held a meeting of 100 top executives to draw up plans for Internet businesses. Dreamworks SKG the studio started by Steven Spielberg, said last month that it would form a Web entertainment venture with Imagine Entertainment, the production company started by Ron Howard. The new company, Pop.com, is being initially financed with $50 million from Paul G. Allen, the Microsoft cofounder.

Microsoft and Dell Computer have invested in Digital Entertainment Network, a start-up in Los Angeles that creates original Web programs. WireBreak Entertainment, another start-up, counts Michael Jordan, the former chief executive of CBS, among its backers. And Frank J. Biondi Jr., the former chief executive of Universal Studios, has invested in such companies as Atomfilms and SightSound.com, both of which offer movies on the Internet. Warner Brothers' Entertaindom, the biggest effort by a major studio, will offer the studio's own Looney Tunes cartoons as well as shows licensed from others, like "The God & Devil Show" from Mondo Media of San Francisco. It will also draw on the magazines and record company of its parent, Time Warner, to provide entertainment information and to sell concert tickets. Jim Moloshok, the president of Warner Brothers Online, said studios need to become more active on the Web or lose out to Internet start-ups.

"Hollywood has been hibernating in its cave for years," he said. "The Real Networks, the Yahoos have been sneaking into our cave and stealing our food." Record companies were caught flat-footed by the speed at which the Internet began to be used to distribute music, legally and illegally. Studios are owned by the same companies as the record labels and should be preparing. But are they?

Except for Warner Brothers and 2Oth Century Fox, a unit of the News Corporation, none of the Hollywood studios would talk about Internet entertainment-a sign, some industry executives say, that the studios have not figured out what to do. "All the studios are taking the path of least resistance-what can we do that's not competitive with our existing business?" said David Wertheimer, chief executive of Wirebreak and former head of the online activities of Paramount Pictures, which is owned by Viacom.

"I think they'll be surprised at how big it becomes how quickly." Others say that caution is justified. There have been several failures in online entertainment, including early efforts by Microsoft and America Online. Big studios say they can wait because they have access to major talent. "I think it's a big sinkhole," said Jake Winebaum, who once ran the Internet operations of Walt Disney. "I think there's going to be a lot of money spent before the consumer is ready for it." Disney offers some entertainment for children on the Internet but has pursued a broader Web strategy with a general portal . and search engine. Studios also seem to think they can wait because they have access to the best talent.

Few if any of the thousands of garage bands that distribute their music over the Internet have become stars, posing little competition for the major labels. And homegrown Web video shows might become no more of a threat than the amateur programs on public access cable television. "As far as tapping a mass audience, it's going to be difficult because it's pretty grungy stuff right now," said James Murdoch, who is in, charge of Internet operations for the . News Corporation and its Fox studio.: He and some other executives said. that if good programs did arise on- line, studios could buy them or their production companies and even turn them into television programs.

Disney's ABC uses the Web to provide statistics to go with "Monday Night Football." Fox is looking at creating virtual communities tied to shows like "Ally McBeal." Sony Pictures is allowing users of Web TV, a device that brings Web pages onto television sets, to play along with "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune," two game shows it produces. It also offers video games online. But executives at Sony, one of the few major studios not affiliated with a television network, have indicated that they are interested in the Internet for program distribution in the future. In that it is used for chatting, games and idle surfing, the Web is already a big entertainment venue, though not for traditional video and movies.

Some analysts say the Web is best suited for such interactive activities, rather than for transmitting shows that are best seen on television or in the theater. Many Web entertainment sites try to provide some sense of community by letting viewers comment on the show, chat with other viewers or even influence the plot, however minimally. But it remains to be seen whether such active viewing can be as engrossing as traditional entertainment, in which viewers suspend their disbelief. So far, there has been no big hit Internet show that defines the medium, in the way that Milton Berle's show did in television's infancy. Most of the made-for-the-Web shows now online are in short "Webisodes," only a few minutes long, and many are cartoons. Shorter programs are more tolerable with existing technology, and animation can be transmitted with higher quality than video. But the brevity also reflects the way Web programs are being viewed -as a quick break for people working on their computers. People describe Web entertainment as a "lean-forward experience" rather than the "lean-back experience" of watching television or a movie.

"Nobody's going to watch a half-hour of 'Seinfeld' or an hour and a half movie on the PC in the office," said Johan Liedgren, chief executive of Honkworm International, a Seattle company whose Internet shows feature animated fish talking in a bar. Many of the shows are sophomoric, if not downright demented, in part because the Web has been a refuge for shows unsuitable for a general television audience and because such fare is intended to appeal to teenage boys and young men. In addition to Mr. Shields's frog cartoon, for example, there is "The Peeper," a cartoon about a peeping tom, created by the comedian and actor Adam Sandler.

One big question is whether any Web entertainment efforts can make money. Some sites are offering or planning to offer pay-per-view movies or charge subscription fees. Program developers hope they can syndicate their shows to other Web sites, such as portals and e-commerce sites that might provide entertainment to draw customers. Most shows, including "God & Devil," are being offered free and their providers depend on advertising, but it is not clear whether online shows can draw big enough audiences.

Honkworm gets 500,000 viewers each month for all its shows combined, while a television program can draw millions in a night. The average film shown on Ifilm.com, a Web site offering free independent films, draws 5,000 viewers, though some films can get up to 50,000. SightSound.com, which charges a few dollars to Web users to download movies, says its most popular title is "rented" 60 times a month, less than a single video store can do. Digital Entertainment Network known as DEN, said it expected $7.5 million in revenue from its charter sponsors-Ford Motor, Microsoft and Pepsico. But most will be in the form of services, like promotion of DEN by Pepsi, not in cash. Though most Web programming is now made "for people who live in SoHo or Silicon Valley," the audience will broaden, Mr. Moloshok of Entertaindom said. "Mainstreamers are coming online," he said. "I don't want to create the niche show. I want to create the 'Seinfeld.' "

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