Amid the major networks, films studios and other international powerhouses being showcased at the annual National Association Of Television Program Executives in Las Vegas last week, a number of fledgling Los Angeles companies were there trying to gain a toehold in the rapidly changing industry.
Among them was Burbank's fledgling Savage Frog, a company dedicated to computer-animated character design both its own, and on a for-hire basis. Since its founding in August 1999, the company has worked for the Walt Disney Co. and Lucas Arts, among others, all with a workforce of about a half-dozen.
"We're a little light on management," grins CEO Tom Sullivan, who got the gumption to start the business because "my grandfather died and left (us) some money," enough to "operate at a loss for three years."
He decided to rent a small booth at NATPE because, with a background in negotiating telecommunication treaties for the government, Sullivan wants "to do international business," en route to becoming a kind of virtual development studio for animation.
Like a lot of companies at NATPE, big and small, Savage Frog is also betting that the rules of the broadcast industry will continue to change and that the Internet will blossom as a new artistic medium for viewers and creators alike.
Hoping the same thing, but not particularly attached to who makes the content, or what that content is, is Beverly Hills-based iBlast, also founded in 1999 and attending its first NATPE show. The company bills itself as a "national, wireless data broadcasting distribution network," which uses satellites to help move large packets of information around.
According to company CEO Michael Lambert, who was instrumental in cobbling together the Fox Network from previously independent television stations, "there's an enormous amount of gadgetry that sits in the home" PCs, TV sets, gaming consoles all of it being a "catcher's mitt" for content. By utilizing the unused bandwidth found in normal television transmission, iBlast hopes to expand its roster of 246 stations to eventually become a kind of HDTV/broadband network. As for content, it'll leave that to the creative folk.
Sherman Oaks-based Studio M was one of the plethora of would-be "content providers" at last week's conference.
It bought ad space on the cover of this year's NATPE exhibition guide to make sure it got a little "eyeball time" from attendees, though its mix of rock music videos and pro wrestling aesthetics (with programs like "Wrestle Rock" and "Xtreme Music") would be hard to miss.
Studio M Chairman Max Keller thinks there's room for another 24-hour television music service though so far, Studio M has only placed four hours a day on air because MTV and VH1, the dominant forces in the space, are owned by one company. "Let's put it this way," he said, "there's only Viacom."
But program buyers at NATPE aren't known for choosing shows in order to make a stand against market hegemony. Judging from the size of the media giants' booths, or the fact that company siblings CNN and Warner Bros. shared signage outside the building, most attendees have at least reconciled themselves to the current realities of corporate consolidation.
But as some of NATPE's newer, smaller, or pluckier attendees attest, hope outside those mega-merged walls continues to spring eternal.
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