She might play a ditz on the web, but Jesse Draper is serious when it comes to building a business out of her pink-clad alter ego.
Draper recently launched the fourth season of her “Valley Girl Show,” an Internet-based series featuring her interviews with business people and entrepreneurs from prominent companies. The latest season features interviews with Visa Chief Executive Joseph Saunders and Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. And Draper has signed distribution deals that could expose the show to many more viewers.
It’s all part of her plan to turn her business, Valley Girl Inc., into a new-media company complete with webisodes, blogs and possibly even radio and TV shows.
“What we’re trying to create is this Valley Girl media network,” she said. “The show is our main thing and that’s what’s been the best for us as far as branding and financially. We’re working on everything from books to shows to blogs.”
When Draper first launched “Valley Girl Show” in 2008, she filmed it from her parents’ Silicon Valley garage. The show’s primary distribution platforms were the website, ValleyGirl.tv, and online video sites such as YouTube and Vimeo.
Instead of relying on the viral nature of YouTube to grow her audience in her fourth season, which began Nov. 15, Draper decided to search for distribution deals that would put her show on more platforms.
She now has contracts with about 30 distribution outlets. They include IndoorDirect, which runs programming for televisions found at fast-food restaurants such as Taco Bell and KFC, and Mediafly, which runs Valley Girl’s apps for smart phones and tablets, and distributes the show on Internet TV boxes such as Roku and Boxee. Valley Girl also licenses programming to Internet TV sites such as GlamTV and AOL for syndication on their online networks.
Last season, Draper’s videos averaged between 10,000 and 15,000 viewers. That’s respectable for a niche show, but it’s only a fraction of what the top web shows get, said Marc Hustvedt, editor of L.A. online video blog Tubefilter News. The top 100 shows on YouTube, such as “Annoying Orange,” bring in about 1 million views per episode.
But Hustvedt said Draper is taking the right approach to growing her audience.
“If you’re not on a major distribution platform like television, you have to use every means necessary to build an audience,” he said. “She’s got some creative partnerships.”
Draper, who studied theater at UCLA and starred in a Nickelodeon show called “Naked Brothers Band,” is the daughter of Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper. She grew up around the technology pioneers who make headlines today, and said the idea for the show was to create an interview series where they could have a little fun.
“Having grown up around all these entrepreneurs, I always saw this fun side that a lot of people didn’t get to see,” she said. “I’d see them on CNN or Bloomberg and it was just these really grilling interviews. Not everyone enjoys watching that.”
So she created her Valley girl persona, a somewhat ditzy character who dresses in pink, and invited some of her dad’s business contacts on her show to answer questions about their companies – as well as participate in activities such as bubble blowing and silly game competitions.
She started by interviewing then-Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark in her first season. Since then, she’s developed her own connections and snagged business stars such as media mogul Ted Turner and Tesla Motors Chief Executive Elon Musk.
Today, Draper has a full-time staff of five that helps her produce her show, including her business partner Jonathan Polenz. She lives in Los Angeles, films her show in both Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, and also travels to the offices of some interviewees.
The current season will feature 50 episodes, more than triple the 10 to 15 she produced in each of her first three seasons.
Draper makes money from the show through sponsorships and the licensing deals for distribution. She would not disclose revenue, but said the show is breaking even.
Despite its niche viewership, “Valley Girl Show’s” audience of tech and business types is appealing to advertisers, said Jason Nadler, co-founder of Santa Monica digital entertainment firm Serious Business.
“There are going to be much more mainstream successes online,” he said. “But if you’re reaching the most influential tech investors and talent in the community, then it’s quite valuable.”
To grow the business beyond “Valley Girl Show,” Draper is looking into other media properties to create or acquire.
Last year, she purchased L.A. technology blog Lalawag. She also has a blog focused on Silicon Valley and hopes to launch a New York tech blog in the future.
Draper is also looking to make the move from the web into traditional media. She will write a regularly featured column for websites such as Huffington Post and Business Insider. She also said she’s in talks with Clear Channel about hosting a radio program and is working with CBS about airing a show on local news syndication.
“We’re trying to create something that’s bigger than just the show and just the blogs,” she said. “Hopefully you’ll see us in a lot more places soon.”
But Nadler warned that her show might not make the transition to radio or TV because of its niche focus on the technology and business communities.
“In a web-based format, you can really target a very specific niche and still have some modicum of success,” he said. “But the question is: Do traditional media have the appetite for that kind of show?”
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