It was only a handful of years ago that Hollywood studios were scrambling to remove clips of their movies from Google Inc.’s YouTube – conventional wisdom was that if videos were posted on the site, studio profits were being stolen.

But with so much content being posted around the clock, the effort to remove it all was like playing a game of whack-a-mole, said Zach James, a co-founder of Zefr in Venice.

He and partner Richard Raddon started the company in 2009, seeing an opportunity to help studios start making money from videos through advertising while keeping them online as promotional fare.

Now, after a high-profile investment, the company will start doing the same for owners of TV, sports and music video content.

“With these big studios, they often have TV content. There’s a lot of TV deals that we can do,” James said.

The expansion of the business follows last week’s announcement of an $18.5 million investment from U.S. Venture Partners of Menlo Park. The company also changed its name to Zefr from MovieClips last week to reflect the broader strategy. The firm employs about 100 people in its Venice offices in a converted speakeasy.

The company has agreements with all of the major studios for its service, which involves staff identifying videos that have been posted to YouTube. Videos judged pirated are removed – such as those excessively long or that link into sites where entire films can be viewed – while videos thought to be posted by fans are used to sell advertising. The ad revenue is shared between the studios and Zefr. To maximize viewers, Zefr tags the videos with the appropriate search terms.

The company also uploads videos from studios to its MovieClips YouTube channel, which has amassed some hundreds of millions of views. Clips range from Universal Pictures’ “Fletch” to Paramount Pictures’ “Mission: Impossible.” The plan is to add other channels for TV and sports clips that can attract advertising as well.

Conference Verite

When the West Coast Documentary and Reality Conference kicks off in Culver City on Sept. 9, the conference’s co-founders, Chuck Braverman and Richard Propper, are hoping producers will show up with their elevator pitches ready.

The three-day conference is intended to give producers rare face time with TV executives who are scouting for programming to fill out their winter, spring and summer schedules.

The event started in 2009, when Braverman, president of Braverman Productions in Culver City, approached Propper, president of international film distribution company Solid Entertainment in Encino, about starting a conference to give West Coast producers better access to development executives.

They put it on again in 2010, but placed it on hiatus last year as they searched for a new location. They decided on Culver City and will be splitting events between the Culver Hotel and the nearby Pacific Theaters Culver Stadium 12, where there will be screenings for three independent films. One is “Not Dead Yet,” about a young metal guitarist who is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

They’re expecting a turnout of about 300 to 400 producers, who will pay $550 per ticket until Sept. 1, or $595 after.

The event costs six figures to produce, and it is being financed through a combination of ticket sales and sponsorships from media, entertainment, finance and other companies. The event is being produced through a Culver City company the duo started called Western Factual Conference LLC.

About 125 prospective buyers are expected to attend, representing dozens of broadcast, cable and digital networks, including outlets such as ESPN, E Entertainment Television, Spike TV and YouTube.

The TV executives will listen to pitches at events that include PitchFest, in which producers compete for project funding. There also will be an event that allows producers to pitch in a setting similar to speed-dating.

But Propper said WestDoc is different from other conferences because it also gives the chance to chat up the network executives informally. He added that the event has caught the eye of other event production companies who are interested in staging an East Coast version.

“When you go to these conventions, they’re large affairs and it can be hard to reach the decision-makers,” he said. “Our event is more casual and we wanted people to be able to rub shoulders.”

Staff reporter Jonathan Polakoff can be reached at jpolakoff@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 226.

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