The user-generated video world, while still populated by frat boys filming themselves being jackasses and pet owners posting clips of their cats, is fast becoming an arena for semipros who are producing scripted, episodic content. In many cases, they are even being discovered by old media.
"We've seen a shift in the last six to seven months where more professional content is emerging," said Keith Richman, CEO of Break.com, a site that aggregates advertiser-safe videos.
"It's like a new independent film scene in a way," added Alex Delyle, managing editor of TheDailyReel.com, a four-month-old site that has become a sort of Entertainment Weekly for the online video world. "At this point, every single agency in L.A. is looking at this."
One pair of artists that have already been discovered is Barats and Bereta, two recent college grads who have churned out multiple comedic clips on Break and YouTube. A few weeks ago, they signed a development deal to produce a pilot for NBC.
Another such team is Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda, two comedy/improv veterans whose series of vignettes depicting Chad Vader—the less-intimidating brother of Star Wars villain Darth Vader—managing a supermarket have become a YouTube sensation. Episode 4 premiered on Good Morning America a few weeks ago, and according to Sloan, the pair has been in pitch meetings with two major networks.
At the other end of the online video spectrum is Nobody's Watching, the sitcom pilot produced by Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence that was rejected by the WB. In the last few months, the show was resurrected on YouTube, leading to an order of six new scripts by NBC.
Lawrence believes that online video is shaking up the Hollywood talent system. "The truth is, everyone of us that is in this business was out there trying stuff like this [before the Web]," said Lawrence. "There isn't a huge gap between what I am doing and what these guys are doing."