The operators of Internet entertainment sites such as MyDamnChannel, Break, Heavy and others have a message for striking writers — give us a look.
Many writers are doing just that, with the hope of retaining total creative control over their work and collecting as much as half of all revenue — a potentially sweet deal compared to a typical TV gig.
The actual dollars generated by such Internet sites remain minimal, but operators hope that luring veteran entertainment writers will jump-start their bottom lines.
"Everyone has been awakened to the potential," said Kristen Stavola, a screenwriter who is helping launch a site to host short videos created by top talent.
Fellow screenwriter Peter Rader said the effort results from the interest expressed by writers on the picket lines.
"It is taking the studio model and flipping it on its head," Rader said. "Content providers will own and retain their own copyrights."
Movie and TV writers have had plenty of time to consider other options since their strike began Nov. 5 against studios, networks and producers represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
Writers are demanding more money when TV shows and films are sold on Internet sites such as Apple Inc.'s iTunes. They also want a share of revenue when advertising-supported episodes and films are streamed for free on sites such as ABC.com.
The alliance has countered that it's too early to know which Web business models will succeed, and it is holding out for flexibility to experiment without being locked into payment formulas.
Many writers have dabbled with Web offerings this month, which they say is helping open their eyes to the Internet as more than a place to rerun their TV and movie work.
Some A-list actors have even joined the effort and appeared in a strike-related Web series titled "Speechless," where Sean Penn, Ed Asner and others demonstrate the helplessness of actors without a script.
Rader has had some success with his online video "The Office is Closed," featuring actors and writers from the hit NBC comedy "The Office." It has been viewed more than 500,000 times, well on its way to the 1 million hits Rader and Stavola say it takes to attract serious attention from advertisers.
The Web site MyDamnChannel features work from such people as comedian Harry Shearer, the voice of several characters on the "The Simpsons," and David Wain, a founder of the comedy show "The State" on MTV.
A musical satire from Shearer titled "Waterboardin' USA" has collected more than a million hits by taking advantage of the Web's viral nature, where videos are passed along by fans.
Operators of entertainment Web sites said the next step is attracting advertisers.
They're convinced that will happen as established writers increasingly turn to the Web to offer new content rather than making only occasional contributions.
"When major ad sales deals become a consistent reality on the Web, then our business model will become a sure thing for talent craving artistic freedom and a solid paycheck," said Rob Barnett, the founder of MyDamnChannel and a former MTV and CBS Radio executive.
Advertisers now pay between 40 percent and 60 percent more for online ads than they do for TV commercials because Web audiences tend to be younger, male and affluent _ a sweet spot for advertisers.
Forrester Research expects revenue from ad-supported, online streaming to grow from $250 million this year to $1.7 billion by 2010. But with far fewer viewers, the Internet rakes in just a fraction of the $70 billion in advertising collected by broadcast television, according to Forrester.
Longtime Web producers and writers Zadi Diaz and Steve Woolf, who run the Web site Epic-FU, said Hollywood writers shouldn't wait until Internet ad dollars start rolling in to make deals with Web sites.
"We really feel this is a time if enough writers were to get together and create content for the Web, there would be a huge tipping point," Woolf said.
They cautioned that it could become harder to experiment after TV networks finally figure out how to make money and start flooding the Internet with reruns and short videos designed to promote their prime-time TV shows.
"Creators do have the power," Diaz said. "Why not take advantage of that?"