One of the reasons I rarely write about a lot of the “digital production” initiatives set up by Hollywood agencies as ministudios for digital entertainment from established actors, directors and others is because they usually go belly up. Many agencies have made splashy announcements over the years only to very quietly close such new ventures. Now it’s United Talent Agency’s turn. Shutting down is its 2-year-old digital producer 60Frames Entertainment which was incubated by UTA and advertising agency Spot Runner, but funded and operated independently. (This is not UTA Online, which is an integral part of the agency.)
I’d heard for months that 60Frames was going to shutter, but now its disappearing act is official. Run by Brent Weinstein with a 7-member staff, it garnered a ton of hype for the agency in the media (like this story in The New York Times) and inked deals with Warner Bros’ TheWB.com, Sony’s Crackle, and NBC Universal Digital Studio. But not even additional financial backing from The Tudor Investment Group and Bob Pittman’s Pilot Group could keep it going. “It literally ran out of money because of the economy,” an insider tells me. “The truth is what was a very cool company that did a lot of successful innovative deals. And it was just a casualty of the recession.”
The problem as I see it is that these digital production studios need to be home-grown inside the agency without a lot of outside investors demanding sooner-rather-than-later returns on their investments. It’s short-sighted to ignore what is obviously the next wave of Hollywood agenting. But also foolish to expect it’s going to make money within just a couple of years. That said, the problem now is what it always is in tenpercenting: as Big Media make moves every day to control not just online content but also online distribution, the agencies find they still have to go begging to the same Hollywood CEOs to make digital deals.