Indigenous Media, a digital-video company led by film and TV vets Jon Avnet, Rodrigo Garcia and Jake Avnet, has launched with investments by ITV and WPP. Jon Miller, former head of AOL and News Corp.‘s digital media unit, is non-executive chairman.
Producer/director/writers Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes, Justified, Righteous Kill) and Garcia (In Treatment, Carnivale, Six Feet Under) and Avnet’s tech-savvy son, Jake Avnet, are the creators behind WIGS, the female-centric online site whose TV-quality shows run on YouTube, Hulu and FOXNOW.
Jon Avnet said the success of WIGS, financially and otherwise, over the past few years made Indigenous, and its big-time backing, possible.
“It was the fact that WIGS attracted such a high level of talent and got so much support from the journalistic community,” Avnet said. “Also, the fact that our production model worked. It was serious validation of the work.”
That production model involved careful writing and project development, focusing on story lines that could be compelling but not expensive to produce.
“The key was the production and the writing and conceptualization was very, very thrifty,” Avnet said. “That’s not easy.”
Given the many relationships the older Avnet and Garcia have built in their years in Hollywood, they were able to attract traditional-media notables on both sides of the camera, including Julia Stiles, Jennifer Beals, America Ferrera, Jennifer Garner, Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina, Betty Thomas and Neil LaBute.
Episodes are typically 7- to 8-minutes long, but also are written so they can be recombined into longer programs. The second season of Blue, which stars Stiles, was shot as a series of shorts, for instance, but what runs on Hulu is 11 one-hour episodes created from those shorts.
Now, with Indigenous, the company plans to expand its scope and ambition in many ways. First is with genre, moving beyond the core female audience that WIGS attracted. Garcia said they will do more half-hour- and hour-long episodes, and create them not just for a YouTube world, but also target many other distribution platforms, digital and otherwise.
“We want to be able to do more content,” Garcia said. “Not just half hours and hours, but just more of it.”
They also plan to leverage ITV’s international oomph to take show concepts and formats they develop and adapt those to international markets such as Brazil and Turkey that have very large and active online audiences.
“We believe high-quality, digital narrative content will have a tremendously long, monetizable tail,” said Avnet. The deals with ITV and WPP “give us reach. Some of our stuff will work in other markets. When you look at the Rubik’s cube of how do you monetize,” it will be vital to develop international markets, and possible new distribution opportunities in the fast-evolving digital-video world.
Avnet and Garcia were vague about the investment capital they’ve received: “A significant amount is all we’re allowed to say,” Avnet said. “We wanted the opportunity to be able to stick around (long enough to make the venture succeed.) We want to do stuff that’s sustainable, that lasts. That’s what we’re aiming for.”
They also plan to tap the brand relationships of WPP’s Group M, which owns the direct corporate connection with Indigenous and specializes in brand relationships. Indigenous will continue its programming relationships with Fox on multiple platforms.
Beyond WPP and ITV, other investors include Steven Tisch, Advancit Capital (the National Amusements-connected investment fund whose principals include Miller, Shari Redstone and Jason Ostheimer), Michael Price and Dr. Aaron Stern. CAA advised on the transactions.