PlayBack: Digital Company of the Year: iThentic

playbackonline.ca
by Danielle Ng See Quan

In a time when viewers are surrounded by screens on which they voraciously consume content – mobiles, online, tablet and TV – it would make sense for a digital producer and distributor to approach properties with a 360-degree monetization strategy.

This 360-degree outlook has been a key factor in digital content aggregator, distributor and producer iThentic’s strategy since the Toronto-based company launched in 2006, what company chairwoman and co-founder Catherine Tait calls a diversified business model.

“We are fully exploiting the linear, we are fully exploiting the interactive, but also we are fully exploiting ancillary markets where we can monetize the properties. For us, 360 means not just looking at pure internet content, but also making sure that we are exploring all the potential for monetization,” she tells Playback.

Three of their recent projects typify this approach. For upcoming iThentic projects like SOS: Save our Skins and Everyday is like Sunday, this means creating both a web version and a feature version of the projects, so as to not be restricted to internet distribution, and to be able to monetize the IP on multiple platforms.

Save our Skins is somewhat of an anomaly, being a U.K.-Canada digital co-production. iThentic optioned and began developing the property after British comedians Nat Saunders and Chris Heyward pitched it in the Just for Laughs web pitch competition in 2010. They then partnered up with U.K.-based prodco Baby Cow to produce the series for the web. The series won the comedy prize at the Pixel Pitch competition at the Cross-Media Forum in October.

And Everyday is Like Sunday is a 10-episode web series that will be cut first as a feature film, with the series version premiering online after the film hits the festival circuit. The project, which wrapped production in Toronto in August, is directed by The New Pornographers’ Blaine Thurier and produced by Brian Robertson and Pavan Moondi (who also wrote the series with Michael Sloane) in collaboration with iThentic and Toronto-based Riddle Films.

Finally, web series Guidestones, an original IP produced by iThentic and Toronto-based 3 o’clock TV and directed by Jay Ferguson, is likely the best example of a project that has shown success out of iThentic’s business model. The web series, which taps into conspiracy theories and the thriller genre, was created as both an interactive “push” version that lets viewers participate and find clues on the web to unlock the series narrative, and also a linear version for more passive, serialized viewing.

The company greenlit a second 40-episode season earlier this year. A 34-ep on-demand version of the first season launched on Hulu in June, through which the company generates revenue share. The series also launched on iTunes Oct. 1.

It was funded by the prodcos, the Independent Production Fund, grants from the Ontario Media Development Corporation and through sponsorships, including those with Pizza Pizza and Major League Baseball.

Analytics show the series has a 49% user return rate, and 10,000 users reach the series content through the subscription “push’ system, in which users sign up to receive episodes via email to experience the content on an interactive level.

The key to its success is not only creating content that resonates with audiences, but creating different choices for consumers that are marketable and monetizable on various platforms, says CEO Jonas Diamond.

“The real challenge is trying to be everything to everyone, and I think Guidestones does a really good job of that in terms of its distribution model – really kind of catering to the audience, and delivering an experience that they would want to consume rather than dictating to them how we think they should experience it.”

The past year has been a tipping point for the company. Tait says it was a year in which iThentic had achieved scale in its projects and partnerships, and a year in which they saw a real uptake in the marketplace for their business.

It has grown through strategic partnerships formed through distribution agreements (like striking a deal with the CBC for Smiley Guy and Duopoly animated copro The World of Bruce McCall) and by doing more service work.

Those partnerships include working with the City of Toronto on short film initiative Toronto Revealed, along with the Canadian Film Centre, and administering contests for the Shortnonstop festival and The Reel Challenge.

That’s in addition to providing digital strategy and digital monetization opps to iThentic’s founding partners, like eOne, for which they developed media apps for Call Me Fitz.

And with multiple screen projects in the pipeline, and the launches of the iFestivus digital platform to help film festivals to reach larger audiences, a Greenspace app and game based on their Green Minute musician touring series, 2013 promises to see the company continuing to expand as a digital studio.

Click here to view Playback‘s Winter 2012 issue online.

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