Did Machinima Just Get Shafted?

Spielberg project is either vindication, or reminder of the pecking order

Microsoft announced last week that it plans to collaborate with Steven Spielberg on an original, live-action series based on the massively popular game Halo. The deal is part of the company’s push to bring premium series content to Xbox under the leadership of former CBS programming exec Nancy Tellem.

But wait, you might ask. Doesn’t Machinima already have a Halo series? And wasn’t it doing really well?

Yes. In fact, a year ago, Machinima CEO Allen DeBevoise labeled Halo: Forward Unto Dawn the most expensive Web video series ever made. He also called it a possible tipping point for Machinima and the medium.

“This program has the potential to be for Machinima what Oz was for HBO,” he said at the time.

Well, let’s look at the numbers. The four-part show came out of the gate smoking upon its debut about seven months ago. Part one has generated 11.6 million views to date. Part two slipped to about 6 million, a much smaller number but still pretty huge in the Web video world. Parts three and four netted out at around 4.5 million views each.

So instead of getting a second season, Forward Unto Dawn gets passed over for a new Spielberg Halo project. Is that flattering, or did Machinima just get shafted?

The Spielberg project was "a totally different discussion that Microsoft was having," said Machinima communications director Kat Jones. "There was never a ‘what, they are talking to Spielberg?’ moment."

Jay Sampson, Machinima’s  evp, global sales & advertiser operations, noted that Forward Unto Dawn was essentially a branded entertainment vehicle developed and timed specifically to promote the launch of Halo 4 last November. And it was never actually Machinima’s to own—the company was just first to stream the Web show, which eventually made its way to Netflix.

“We think it’s very exciting on the heels on what we did,” said Sampson. “It validates our show. And Nancy [is] taking it to next level. Maybe over time they turn to us [as a partner]. That’s pure speculation at this point.”

Machinima continues to use Forward Unto Dawn to sell itself. Using research conducted in conjunction with Nielsen, Machinima said that last October, only IFC’s The Walking Dead reached more men 18-34 than Halo: 3.1 million vs. 2.7. That’s pretty amazing company, not to mention bigger than The Big Bang Theory, Family Guy or Sons of Anarchy.

Overall, Forward Unto Dawn offers a powerful case study for Machinima and Halo. Depending upon your point of view, that’s either great support evidence for Spielberg and company to launch a new series. Or a great reason for Machinima to gripe about getting passed over.