BIZ PROFILE: That's Mondo Entertainment! - An Interview With Douglas Kay
by Kevin Dreyfuss/EB Insider
In the world of online entertainment, animation companies have more often than not been the pioneers. Mondo Media is no exception, yet is relatively elderly by online standards, having been formed as an off-line multimedia animation house back in 1988 by co-founder and CEO John Evershad. When former Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and LucasArts computer animation guru Douglas Kay came on board as President of the company in 1998, it signaled a shift in direction towards the online world. Since then, they've launched a successful series of sometimes lewd and crude, but often hilarious interactive Flash animated Mondo Mini-Shows, such as "The God and Devil Show" on Entertaindom.com, and "Like, News" and "Thugs on Film", which are licensed to dial-up and broadband portals all across the Web. Mondo has big plans to push the animation envelope online and make a name for themselves as the animators of choice in a new world of entertainment. At the recent Yahoo! Internet Life Online Film Festival, EB Insider caught up with Kay and chatted about the company's future plans and overall mission.
EB Insider: What is your background and what's the history of Mondo?
Douglas Kay: My background is in visual effects. I was at ILM for about 10 years and started the computer graphics department there. It was fun, it was great . . .what was great about it was that we had the opportunity to completely transform filmmaking for the better. And that was bringing digital technology to the stage that it became just another production tool, with "The Abyss," "T2" and "Jurassic Park," each one we raised a level up.
As for Mondo Media, it's a 12-year-old company. And it's a 12-year-old new media company, which, by definition, means they have done many different things to remain "new media." But the goal has always been to move towards a company that was creating original content and having it seen by very large audiences. So it's a group that has been largely animators and artists, working in 3D as well as 2D animation.
EBI: What's the thinking on licensing content rather than creating your own destination site?
Kay: What we've found works really well for us is, rather than trying to create another site among all the many sites you see (and some really high profile ones among them), we are able to take our content as well as other people's content and syndicate it to a large number of high profile Web sites. This is our content model, and we've been doing it for about a year, so in this business we're actually kind of old-timers. Entertaindom is the one exclusive deal we have, for the "God and Devil Show." And there were many reason why it made sense to partner with Entertaindom for that one show. But our general model is non-exclusive. So our two shows that are in syndication at the moment, "Like, News" and "Thugs on Film," are on 15 sites and that's growing every day.
EBI: So you're syndicated on Entertaindom and Netcenter and now iCast. And right now it's all flash, so you're not necessarily targeting solely the broadband audience, right?
Kay: That's correct, I mean our goal was to create online entertainment right now. So it was important for us to come up with an approach that would work for the vast majority of people who are online. And that means there are still a lot of people who are on 28.8.k or 56k, and flash is a great technology for that approach.
Even though we are focused right now on Flash because of its ubiquity, ultimately we would certainly like to be doing things that could only be done with higher bandwidth - streaming video, 3D - because we want to create rich experiences.
EBI: And people don't have a problem with your non-exclusive, multiple syndication model?
Kay: Generally not, because what they are able to do is get really great content on a very economical basis. If the content's only going to be on one site, as inexpensive as we try to make it, that site still has to ultimately pay for it in some manner. Here, because it's non-exclusive on many sites, the economic model is small per site, but together turns out to be significant. And most of our sites are most interested in having content that keep people on their sites longer, and keeps them coming back. A typical portal may have an average session time of ten minutes. Well, you watch a three minute show, and you've increased your session time 30% and have that many more opportunities to ultimately gain revenue.
EBI: You recently received a big $20 million round of financing. What kinds of investors were behind it?
Kay: Our largest strategic investor is Shockwave. They're four blocks down the road from us, so there are a lot of great similarities. And we'll be providing content to their site, that then goes back into our syndication system. We also have a number of VCs, so it's a combination of strategic and pure VC money coming in.
EBI: So coming out of the Yahoo !Internet Life Online Festival, what do you think of the two different mind sets on display, between old world Hollywood and next-gen entertainment?
Kay: My take is, this is absolutely a new medium. Online entertainment is something different than television or film and games and everything else. But it is really early in its growth, so it's not entirely clear what it is. Did everyone know what television was going to be in the 40s, and what film was going to be in the teens? No. It's in its really embryonic phase, so this is an opportunity for a company like us and others to help define that, get a place for ourselves, and be a significant player in ultimately effecting what this mass entertainment medium is going to turn out to be. Will traditional Hollywood companies play in that? Absolutely. And will some of them work out real well and some won't? Sure.
EBI: Some at the Yahoo! Festival were saying that they were a bit frightened by all the attention there. They're thinking that all the hype will dissipate a few months down the road, and then these same Hollywood people will be checking out the bottom line and realizing it isn't moving fast enough. Are the expectation levels already too high?
Kay: Well, we've been fairly quiet, and just trying to make progress on our business over the last year without too much hype. There certainly is a concern that the expectations get raised so high that when they're not fulfilled everyone thinks 'oh, online content doesn't work'. But of course online content works, of course it's going to be a huge entertainment medium, but it's going to take some time. And we'd prefer to see nice slow and steady growth, instead of a lot of attention and then nobody wants us and then back again. Because we've kind of done that cycle already. Now I think we have critical mass in terms of the number of people on the Web, bandwidth and such, that it should be able to continue in a pretty steady manner. But you never know.
EBI: Kurt Anderson (Inside.com) has said that the current vogue for shorts and animation online is really a by-product of technological limitations, like the relationship between silents and talkies in the 1920s and 30s. There are beautiful silent films, but once sound came in, the art form died. What do you think about that analogy? Is this an ongoing art form or a stopgap?
Kay: My personal feeling is that online is a different experience, a different form of entertainment. So why do three to five minute shows work? Once you start streaming, you can watch something for a half-hour, if you've got it, you've got it. But it's because the experience for entertainment online is different. You're only looking at this entertainment at work, looking for a little break, or you're at home but you're doing a bunch of different things. It's different than the other entertainment forms. So I think there is something fairly magic in the short experience that is going to stay.
I think the reason we have a lot of Flash animation is technological to a certain extent, but the idea that doing this short time period is only because of the technology, my personal opinion is that it is more about the medium or the psychology of the audience. I think online entertainment is always going to be something different. And I think that's going to vary - it could be 30 seconds, it could be 20 minutes, it could be animation, it could be live action, it's going to be lots of different things, and all interactive.
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