Digerati Prove Resistant To Lure Of Old Media Deals

Last month, United Talent Agency established a Web division, UTA Online, created to rep Internet talent. While it will work with Web stars eager to jump to TV and film, its focus lies elsewhere: digirati interested in staying online.

“The model has been that we would identify the people online and flip them to the traditional media,” said Brent Weinstein, head of UTA Online. “[But] we’re finding that a lot of Internet artists prefer to continue working in digital media.”

A growing number of bloggers and vloggers, despite traditional media’s promise of big bucks and greater exposure, are indeed content with the medium. Reasons range from their ability to control the editorial to a wariness about the red tape inherent in corporate culture. Increasingly, another reason is being cited as well: They want control over who advertises on their shows and sites, and how.

According to Andrew Baron, founder of Rocketboom.com (who’s not repped by an agent), he’s been approached by two major networks over the past year to take the daily news show to TV. But the New York-based producer and entrepreneur said no thanks. Hitching his fate to a network, he said, would mean endorsing brands he might not support. “If I say that’s a good commercial … it’s the same editorial judgment I’m exercising” in programming, said Baron. (One brand he endorses is the nonprofit organization Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation, which last month ran three ads it co-created with Rocketboom on the site.)

Josh Leo, whose newsy videocasts run on blip.tv, said he was approached by Current TV in January. After six months of negotiations (the vlogger is also not repped by an agent), he walked away from the deal. For one, he said, “I won’t compromise my integrity and endorse something I don’t believe in.”

“The show’s are picky about the advertisers,” observed blip.tv CEO Dina Kaplan. “You have a show creator with fans who feel very close to them. You don’t want to lose your street credibility.”

There are Web entrepreneurs, of course, who say a move to traditional media does not mean selling out. The founders of Reddit.com, a news-heavy site bought by Condé Nast last week to become part of Wired Digital, said business will be more of the same—only better. The site’s (non-repped) co-founder Alexis Ohanian said he and his colleagues would continue to develop Reddit while doing “what four guys in an apartment couldn’t do alone.” Though they will cede control over advertising, Kourosh Karmikhany, general manager of Wired Digital, claimed Condé Nast has “no intention of disrupting” Reddit’s approach to sponsorship.

Up until now, that approach has involved “getting users what they want and getting in their way as little as possible,” said Ohanian. In practical terms, this has included relegating ads to the comments page and refusing “tacky” banner ads.

Whether Condé Nast makes good on its commitment to Reddit’s roots, the deal suggests that Web entrepreneurs can take their careers to the next level without abandoning new media.

UTA’s Weinstein said such opportunities are only growing: “The online marketplace is evolving every day. The ability for people to make the same money [as in traditional media] will happen as ad dollars continue to shift to the online space. The sky’s the limit.”