Eric Eisner and Bruce Forman bring their raucous point of view to the Web.
In an age in which interactive visionaries have turned "thinking outside the box" into personal mission statements, Eric Eisner and Bruce Forman, co-founders of Los Angeles-based The Romp (romp.com), a self-described "freewheeling entertainment destination cut from the unruliness and irreverence of the Internet," seem to have a different--if equally ambitious--agenda in mind. Let's call it "trawling in the sewer."
Then again, the two surprisingly reticent twentysomethings, whose Flash 4-, Shockwave 8- or QuickTime 4- dependent URL launched in April and went live in May, might just represent a new generation of artists both inside and outside Hollywood who, perhaps for good reason, see no-holds barred animation, videos and games on the Internet as The Next Big Thing.
The Romp represents a high-speed pursuit with Beavis & Butt-head at the wheel and Limp Bizkit on the CD. And while a plethora of online competitors offer animated Webisodes brimming with attitude, "Girl of the Week" pictorials and pages of testosterone-driven content to satisfy even the most suppressed wannabe Fred Durst, few do it with such aplomb.
"My father thinks it's a successful business venture," Eisner recently told The Hollywood Reporter.
The Disney top gun might be right. At least, The Romp's 16-to-25-year-old male target demographic might agree with him. What pubescent boy/man wouldn't get a rise from Booty Call, an animated series that goofs with Animal House humor and guarantees "there's a piece of ass in every adventure?" And what malcontent worker wouldn't like Tardz, another original animated series in which visitors "enter the world of the mentally challenged white-collar professional?"
"We are trying to reach a market that has kind of an elusive but loyal fan base," says Forman, alluding to some hybrid creature that appreciates South Park and reads Maxim. "We wanted to create content they would find compelling."
While one person's compelling entertainment is another's sleaze, one thing is clear to all: The site must prove that it can turn a profit and, in the meantime, keep cutting paychecks for the 30-plus employees on staff--a third of whom create the material. With nary a banner ad, button or sponsor to be found on the site, how long can this romp last?
"We want to license our content online and leverage it to emerging new media platforms," explains Eisner, who together with Forman put up the initial seed money. A private round of financing followed shortly thereafter, generating a reported $15 million. "Anyone can be a distributor; it's much more difficult to be a content creator and owner," Eisner adds.
Neither Forman nor Eisner are adverse to syndicating material to other sites or charging users a fee--realizing, of course, that the pornography industry's online success in charging for its material is due to its hardcore nature. While Romp once featured videos of animals having sex, romping elephants have since been replaced with videos of scantily clad women, who besides telling the camera how much fun they're having posing, remain scantily clad.
Other Romp material includes the recurring series, Getting What You Want with Bill Bilkman, about a stereotypical sleazy salesman who in a recent episode explained the finer points of making money on the Internet, and Open Mike, an animated series featuring actual up-and-coming comedians who compete against one another. Viewers are allowed to heckle or applaud each comedian.
Not willing to devote the site's entire future on broadband, Eisner and Forman believe the emerging wireless market and its requisite demand for diverse material will provide revenue and partnership opportunities.
"We think wireless is a huge market and one that has different content requirements than traditional media," says Forman, who declined to elaborate. Suffice it to say, the number of teens armed with wireless devices is expected to skyrocket within the next five years, according to published reports. "We think the Internet is a good testing ground for those concepts."
Despite zero advertising or marketing, The Romp attracted nearly 200,000 registered users during its first six weeks, a response rate Forman attributes both to word-of-mouth and the site's endearing qualities. "Obviously," says Forman, "we struck a chord."--Erik Gruenwedel