BiteSize Studio Hits Hollywood
Ron Bloom: Envisioning a Hollywood Boulevard studio as a digital powerhouse.
PHOTO BY TED SOQUI
Ron Bloom stands at the corner of Hollywood and Vine dressed in a bourbon-colored blazer, Ted Baker black Converses and Tom Ford sunglasses. He's old enough to be a grandfather, but when he takes off his glasses and smiles, he has warm, auburn eyes and few wrinkles. He doesn't look like he recorded his first Top 10 single in 1964, a lifetime ago as a rock guitarist. He doesn't look like a techie, either, but at the height of the bubble in 1999, the Atlanta native sold his ad agency, Think New Ideas, for about $400 million.
Today he's trying to turn his young company, BiteSize Entertainment, into a digital powerhouse that produces, markets and distributes original, online video. Bloom will produce mini-shows of one to two minutes — as well as feature films — at a new studio that opens soon smack-dab on the Walk of Fame. With the studio's unusual design — a glass wall so passersby can watch production 24 hours a day — Bloom has location in his favor.
In Hollywood, Bloom riffs with bearded panhandlers and tattooed tour guides with the subtle ease of a man walking on a cloud. He shimmies toward the new, 8,000-square-foot headquarters of BiteSize, the rebranded content arm of the Mevio online network, where he is chairman and CEO. A stone's throw from the W Hotel and across from the DejaVu strip club, BiteSize is in the midst of all the good and bad that attracts artists, dreamers and runaways to Hollywood.
"I think there's a tremendous amount of excitement about the physical studio," he says. "What we're saying is, 'Let's build the infrastructure — technical infrastructure and the entertainment infrastructure — first.' " That infrastructure is backed by investments from major venture-capital firms Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia Capital, *plus Bloom's own money, for a total of about $40 million.
Bloom believes that if his content is compelling enough, bite-sized shows could be packaged on major television programming. "If you're making great show entertainment, why does 60 seconds have to be a commercial?" he asks.
"If viewership is really as multitasking as the world says it is, and the people are holding a laptop and tablet and texting and watching, it's actually maybe even more opportunistic to grab them for two minutes than to try to grab them for 30 minutes."
He wants to pump out 1,000 episodes a month, and says BiteSize is producing 300 to 400. "I think we haven't even scratched the surface on how to export our entertainment out into the traditional universe," he says. "A production company makes money on a pilot's success. An entrepreneurial company makes money making a success. We're an entrepreneurial company. That's what we learned from Silicon Valley: Participants make money on the outcome."
BiteSize streams, produces, markets and distributes original web content via its site's six themed channels, including news, entertainment, sports and games. It boasts 40 million unique views and 500 million streaming videos monthly, Bloom says.
"I think the next question is, can we scale? Can we get to a billion views a month?"
To get there, contractors are pounding nails, installing cables and fiber optics, all to finish by March what will be the home of BiteSize. Ever the showman, Bloom is incorporating an interactive, Truman Show aspect: the see-through glass wall on busy, pedestrian-heavy Hollywood Boulevard.
He says the company is "approaching $100 million in yearly gross." Most of that comes from advertisers and product sponsors. BiteSize does 60 campaigns a month, with names like Procter & Gamble, *totalling more than 200 million preroll ads — those advertisements that appear before a video.
When it comes to the talent, the people in his videos are far from household names. But some, like entertainment reporters Amy Paffrath and Kristen Brockman, or adventurer Don Bowie, are known in their respective niches. While they don't get Hollywood paydays, Bloom says there's money on the table for his stars, even six figures for those who are successful.
In the pipeline but not yet in production are some big projects with name talent. *Director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious), is working with producer Gene Kirkwood (Rocky) to helm an action film based on Isaac Newton. And Colin Firth plays the lead in a dramedy based on flamboyant English playwright Noël Coward.
Bloom envisions BiteSize asserting itself as a player on the evolving digital stage. "Based on the team that we've put together, I think there's a combination of head scratching and surprise," Bloom says. "Head scratching is, 'Why would an Internet company make a movie?'
"The surprise is, when you see that, your mind probably goes, 'cheap film, crappy, released on the Internet.' Then they look at our pipeline and who we're working with, and they go, 'What, wait a minute, Colin Firth, Nina Simone with Zoe Saldana, Rob Cohen. How did that happen?'"
Online video attracted more than $3.5 billion in digital ads in the U.S. last year. That number is estimated to reach $6-billion-plus by 2016, according to eMarketer.
Those figures make the world of online video a very hot space. A slew of players is planting their flag in Hollywood — some physically, some just financially — including Tubefilter, Viddy and the firstborn, giant YouTube, which just opened a 41,000-square-foot space in Playa Vista on the Westside. The major entertainment agencies also are getting involved: William Morris Endeavor invested in social-discovery site Chill, and Creative Artists Agency funded mobile-app maker Moonshark.
After years in the shadows of "traditional" media content, the online video industry is providing struggling artists with ways to break in. One is actor Jason Horton, who was disillusioned before finding YouTube. Now he's part of its incubator class.
"Traditional media frequently knock on the doors of the digital world," Horton says. "I love seeing places like BiteSize merge the two, respecting and 'getting' what we are doing online."
Chill co-founder Brian Norgard doesn't view BiteSize as a competitor. Instead, he sees it as part of the push to get content in front of consumers. They're in the fight together.
"I am sure they'll have no problem getting their content wide," Norgard says. "You'll see more companies like this emerge in the next few years. Digital is a great incubation ground for content, and I think you'll see tons of quality material released on digital first — like Louis C.K. and Maria Bamford — and then migrate to other platforms like cable, broadcast and film."
Bloom is equally welcoming toward other players: "Good to have them in the space. Anyone doing something cool, we hope they come talk about it on our network. I don't think NBC exists without ABC."
Bloom was, by his own account, the first person to commercially use the Internet, live-streaming the 1995 Grammy Awards with his fledgling company OnRamp, which he founded with former MTV veejay Adam Curry. Now, from his new perch on the boulevard, could he help turn online video into the fiscal giant many want it to be?
*Corrections: The original story incorrectly stated that Ron Bloom alone invested $40 million when the total investment from all sources is $40 million; that the firm had $200 million in pre-roll ads when the firm had a numerical count of 200 million pre-roll ads, and that BiteSize optioned an Elvis Presley Graceland biopic with director Rob Cohen.
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