Sandy Grushow, a former Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman who oversaw the development of hit TV series such as "American Idol," "The Simpsons" and "24," wants to use the Internet to find and develop talent around the world.

Grushow, along with independent film producer Deepak Nayar, recently launched Los Angeles-based Filmaka.com.

Filmaka is a Web-based talent development business that calls itself a "global digital entertainment studio and robust online creative community for aspiring filmmakers."

The description might seem overly long, but that's what it took to capture the duo's desire to find and develop talent from around the world, largely from outside the United States.

"There is a huge need for high-quality, low-cost content to fuel the new paradigm in entertainment," Grushow said. "And what we've found is that there are some very talented people out there, who aren't necessarily even living in this country."

Using a monthly online film contest as its foundation, Filmaka has quietly attracted thousands of aspiring filmmakers who are all competing for the grand prize of directing their own feature-length film.

But the contest is only the beginning. The duo view Filmaka as an incubator for directors, actors and writers they plan to recruit and build into teams of creative talent to package and unleash on the traditional film and television industries in Hollywood and New York.

Their first partner is Fox's FX cable channel, which is sponsoring a comedy short film contest. Ten finalists selected by Filmaka's celebrity jury will receive $1,000 each to produce a three-minute short. The winner will then get $40,000 to produce a pilot that FX will consider for a full-fledged cable series.

Musical Plug

Amid the dizzying decline in music sales and the heady popularity of online video viewing, three major music companies are betting that newly launched PluggedIn.com will kick start sales.

Universal Music Group, EMI Music and Sony BMG have all signed on with former Amazon executive Jeffrey Somers, who launched Santa Monica-based PluggedIn.com last week with more than 10,000 high-definition A-list music videos streaming free to viewers.

PluggedIn uses adaptive streaming technology that can deliver full screen high-definition images without buffering interruptions usually associated with online video.

But NPD industry analyst Russ Crupnick said that the challenge for PluggedIn is in attracting and building an online community of significant size. Somers said that will happen in time.

"I believe that people are looking for a good viewing experience," Somers said. "And when they find it on our site they'll stay to enjoy the social networking aspect as well."

PluggedIn has all the features of most other social networking Web sites and also allows users to share more than 10,000 broadcast quality music videos and hundreds of thousands of images on the site.

The site pays a fee to the record labels when one of their videos is played, and visitors who want to buy a song or a music video are directed to Amazon.com and Apple Inc.'s iTunes store.

Central to the PluggedIn business plan is the possibility of ad sales. Unlike online video viewing giant YouTube, PluggedIn does not allow members or visitors to post their own videos, thus maintaining content control.

"Advertisers need to have a certain comfort level when it comes to content," Somers said. "We offer that to them by controlling what videos appear on the site."

Somers said that he will soon be experimenting with advertising overlays and branded content, both of which are expected to boost revenues.

PluggedIn launched with just one advertiser, Google. Somers said that he and his partners have enough money to keep the music playing until ad revenue picks up.

The company received about $2 million in funding from actor Will Smith's Overlook Entertainment, a film production company that produced hits such as "I-Robot," "Pursuit of Happyness" and "I Am Legend."

The relationship with the likes of Overlook may prove to be even more valuable as PluggedIn begins to explore plans to expand beyond the music scene and into scripted drama.

Viva La Wizzard

Latino marketing power continues to go nationwide.

Los Angeles-based Latino Weekly, the scrappy 60,000-circulation free newspaper and online endeavor, recently entered a content and advertising exchange agreement with podcast advertising giant Wizzard Media. While financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed, Wizzard Media is expected to distribute Latino-centric video from elatinoweekly.com targeting the more than 300 million Spanish-speaking mobile users worldwide. The content will be supported by advertising and sponsorship agreements secured by the Wizzard, which will also provide marketing support to expand the audience for the new show, said Ed Madinya, creative director and co-founder of Latino Weekly.

Staff Reporter Brett Sporich can be reached at bsporich@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 226.

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