FROM MTV TO COMCAST: CREATING GREAT DIGITAL CONTENT AT R-SQUARED

Rohit Sang and Raphael Rodriguez

“THE LINES HAVE COMPLETELY BLURRED.”

The short story: Rohit Sang and Raphael Rodriguez are like a Swiss Army Knife of Creativity. They can conceive, write, shoot, edit, animate, digitize, rinse and repeat. They can scale (they’re currently turning out hours of TV for Comcast On Demand), they can hit deadlines and — most of all — they can surprise and delight with inventive, fun content.

In short, they are a perfect model for where I think an entire generation of digital/video/media creatives are going to end up in the very near future: turn on a dime solutions for quick and smart production that speaks directly to the audience.

For a few quick samples of their work:

THE WEBBY’S

FROM BESTWEEKEVER.TV – What Oprah REALLY should have said to Tom Cruise.

FOR HP PRINTERS – The YouTube stunt for HP Printers — live improv via the HP Wireless Printer — which they co-EP’d with Crux Digital / Screen Gems.

They can be reached at r-squared@r-squared.biz.

FIVE YEARS AGO, IT WAS ACTUALLY A PROBLEM IF YOU WENT INTO SOMEONE’S OFFICE AND SAID “I WRITE, I ANIMATE, I DO VOICE-OVER, I EDIT, I SHOOT…” 

ROHIT: I think people at that point felt there is no way you can do all of those things professionally.  There is no way you know how to do all those things.  And at that time, you were running Best Week Ever, and you were the first to say “That’s how it’s going to be. Come over here.  I want you to edit, I want you to animate.  Make whatever you want to make.  Use your Photoshop.  Go nuts.  This is digital.  It is different.”

Now, people are beginning to embrace that.  They can see what we can do with just a few people, and they get it.

RAPHAEL: I think it’s part of everything in the economy being leaner.  Companies are being run much tighter.  People hire us because Ro can write a script and I can write a script and then we can go out and shoot it ourselves or we can hire people to shoot it. We have crews around the world who can edit, animate, do voice over or scoring. We can do it more efficiently and just have tighter control over everything.

IT’S GOT TO BE VALUABLE FOR YOUR CLIENTS TO BE ABLE TO TALK TO THE GUYS WHO ARE ACTUALLY GOING TO DO THE WORK. 

ROHIT: They hire us for a turn-key set-up.  A lot of times we are generating everything from the creative to the production, and the final delivery. And yes, there are other production companies that can offer that. But with us, you can talk to the two people who are doing all of the work. You can have all of the back and forth that makes something really special, and know you’re talking to the people who DO the work. Because a good idea is not worth anything when you can’t execute it well. That’s our strength — execution. With us, it’s “If you like our idea, you are going to love the product.“

YOUR FIRST BIG CLIENT WAS THE WEBBY AWARDS. YOU’VE BEEN DOING THAT FOR ABOUT FIVE YEARS NOW. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT? 

RAPHAEL : We had a relationship with the Webby Awards from our Best Week Ever days. We approached them and said “You obviously need an opening segment for your show. We’re on our own now, we’d love to do it again.” They liked our tone, they liked the way we worked, and we were cheap!

ROHIT: Once they said yes, for us, it was essentially “Put your weapons together.” We had the full package — because, as you know, we basically put BestWeekEver.tv together in an office and a computer. Even then, we could have made a full TV show if anyone had let us.

HOW DID YOU GET THE COMCAST GIG? AND HOW MANY HOURS OF ON-DEMAND PROGRAMMING ARE YOU DOING FOR THEM NOW?

ROHIT : A friend of mine,  who I knew from doing some things at MTV Networks went over to Comcast / OnDemand. We kept our creative brainstorms going.  Eventually, we started producing the content we were brainstorming.  We began with a video presentation, and from there we got the nod for more segments. We did it on a fast turnaround, the product was awesome.  So they just kept ordering and ordering. We’re doing 5 hours of programming for them — but each episode is five minutes!

RAPHAEL : We started with seasonal kid’s programming, then expanded into movies, sport, et cetera. We know what’s working because they’re cable — they know who’s watching what. It’s not an approximation. It’s not Nielsen.  They can tell you, “Look, you have 400,000 viewers on this particular piece of content.”

We were on a loose schedule with them.  Then all of a sudden it was like, “Let’s plot this out for the next few quarters. Let’s look into next year let’s see what’s going on.” They knew our capacity was there.  We’re really executing a part of their On Demand strategy. They are the number one cable company in the country.  They have the reach, and now the challenge is to keep you locked into their system with a wealth of offerings.

Obviously as a cable provider, the lines are starting to blur. They’re a content provider, not just a pipe.

RAPH, YOU AND YOUR WIFE SHEA DO A VIDEO BLOG CALLED “HUNGRY IN BROOKLYN.” YOU’RE SYNDICATING YOUR CONTENT, YOU’VE CREATED A BRAND, AND YOU HAVE SOME INTERESTING THOUGHTS ABOUT FRANCHISING THE CONCEPT.  

RAPHAEL: I guess the goal for Hungry in Brooklyn is “Can we make enough money to keep going?” Because the cost of doing everything is fairly low: Shea is in it, she writes it, I edit it, I produce it, and I shoot it.  Once in a while, I take on another shooter or a crew. We shot an episode on an oyster boat off of Montauk. We needed a crew there, and it was worth it.  When you’re out on an oyster boat, you’re eating raw oysters and you’re seeing all of these first hand, you get back from that shoot and you’re like, “This was awesome.”

On a deeper level, I think the goal is to make the entire thing a unified project, see where it will grow if we can make an impact in that space. I think some of the more traditional players are really taking advantage of the new technology, a new way of doing things.  I think the Martha Stewart iPad app is fantastic.

WOULD YOU TAKE THIS TO SOMEONE LIKE MARTHA STEWART OR FOOD NETWORK? 

RAPHAEL:  The number one goal IS a TV show. The number two goal is to create a platform that has revenue streams coming in to different places. We signed with Collective about 6 months ago. It’s sort of a licensing deal.  Basically, they are going to distribute our content and sell ads. This is a new frontier, like the Star Trek cliche. We’re basically asking “What can we do with this?”  We can go the traditional route and we are certainly going to try that.  But it feels like we are re-writing the rules now and the food space feels open.

We syndicate to a bunch of different platforms.  So that has been really beneficial to us. We are doing a deal with iFood TV and various other places.  So it has worked well.  And one of the things we are trying to do is branch out in some sort of places like chowhound.com and other people, in terms of a partnership. Like “Hey, why don’t we have one of your writers on the show?”

The goal is to eventually brand it “Hungry in…” different cities.  We’ve done a San Francisco episode.  We did a Minneapolis episode, a Miami episode.  Just go around the country and kind of profile what’s happening and ultimately attract advertisers who are looking for good quality food concepts. We can hand the “toolkit” of what we do to other people, let them produce it.

OKAY — GEEK LIST… WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE? 

Final Cut, After Effects, Cinema 4D, Photoshop, and Illustrator. And FLASH, we love Flash. Cameras, we’re using digital SLRs —  Panasonic. Canon 7D, 60D. For sound and voice over, we use guys who have fully built-out studios in their home. We do our scripts in Final Draft. We work with crews around the world, so we use FTP and YouSendIt. DropBox. Eventually We’ve got to find a filing system like a Box.net, Media Silo.  Something that is producer-friendly where you sort of track and maybe write notes up there.

We Skype with our crews everywhere.

NOT TO GET TOO PERSONAL, BUT… FINANCIALLY, ARE YOU DOING BETTER OR WORSE THAN WHEN YOU WORKED AT VIACOM AND MTV NETWORKS? 

RAPHAEL:  Better.

ROHIT:  Better.

MUCH BETTER? 

ROHIT:  Much better.

RAPHAEL:  We just never stop working now. So it’s bed to desk, back to bed back to desk.

WHAT’S YOUR GOAL? WHERE IS THIS GOING? 

ROHIT:  I think ultimately our goal is to make as much good stuff as we can,  whether it’s digital or TV.  We’re up for a couple of tv shows, some short films, we can do commercials, we can do web video… I think the thing that’s going to change the most is WHO we’re making this for. Because now we can work for anyone from a small group like the Webby Awards to Comcast. The lines have completely blurred.

 

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