Almost Famous: Lance Podell of Next New Networks

A feature wherein All Things Digital looks at up-and-coming and innovative start-ups you should know about.

This week: We grabbed a Caltrain up to San Francisco to meet with Lance Podell, CEO of Next New Networks, the Web video network whose shows usually mix hi-fi production and lo-fi hosts for that ultra-Webby feel that the kids are raving about.

Or so Podell hopes.

Who: Lance Podell

What: Chief Executive Officer

Why: According to Lance, Next New Networks is aiming to transform its existing lineup of 12 Web TV “networks” into a content behemoth that competes with the big cable guys. Oh yeah, and they plan to monetize it too. Eye rolling aside, at the end of 2009, they were nearly profitable.

Where: (Web site); @NextNewNetworks (Twitter); New York, N.Y. (analog place)

Who else: You name it. Next New Networks competes for face time with an armada of YouTube stars (although they try to recruit some of them too). How does it stack up? Well, the camera work in the latest webisode from YouTube star Fred isn’t anything to write home about, but you don’t have to sit through video advertising either.

Five Stats You Won’t Find in His Facebook Profile

Worst Job Ever: I had a job for a very brief time at a start-up called Savatar; it’s hard to even think about it. [Ad giant] WPP (WPPGY) had invested in this company that was supposed to build Web sites for all the WPP companies. This is like back in 1994. Not only did it crash and burn, but they made me go into I don’t know how many meetings and promise things I just knew we could never deliver.

When He’s Not Busy CEOing: I’m a dad a lot. My son plays just about every sport, so I’m at a lot of games. I also enjoy chasing my little girls around the house.

Gadget of the Moment: I’d love to buy an Internet-enabled TV. I was in the early days of interactive television trials and I really want to see that come to fruition.

Wishes There Was an App For: I really want to be able to use my BlackBerry with my Mac.

Fails At: Ugh, it’s a long list. My son would say understanding that he’s always right.

Bio in 140 Characters

Lance went from Lafayette College to the HBS, and then into the ad game. Next New Networks brought him in to be the ad money rainmaker.

The Five Questions

You guys have been around for a while now. I don’t know if I’d call you “New,” but what’s “Next” for you ?

We don’t just believe in just creating shows and niche content. We believe that the hosts of our shows have to also be a member of the community the show is aimed at. On our indy mogul network for example, Eric Beck literally runs one of the shows, Backyard FX [Think McG meets MythBusters]. He creates Hollywood-style special effects in your backyard for under $100. He’s really doing it. That’s step one.

Step two is we are asking you to contribute. It’s very Web-like, in a very Web way, right? Not like TV. We want you to contribute your thoughts, videos, comments and posts, following the video. Again, not like TV. We don’t have six-month development cycles. Every week that host is coming up with the next episode and we are relating it back to the community and their experience in the prior week.

So, the model is: No more broadcast, just piece together enough niche content, plus some revenue model, to equal profitability?

That’s true, what you said is entirely true. But I don’t want to get too bogged down in that. And the end of the day though, we are an entertainment company, so niches can mean a variety of things. Early on, the company’s goal was to have 100 “networks.” I think that was just an audacious goal to set for the sake of goal-setting. What we’ve done over time is try lots of things, see what works and what doesn’t, see where the passion within our company is, and build on that. And, as the YouTube audience has grown and matured, we can start to look there for shows that are popular and communities of interest.

Also, advertisers are asking for a lot. They want to reach moms, for example. So we are looking for gaps in the Internet that are also things moms want to watch. We don’t create programming specifically to satisfy the advertisers.

A good example of how the relationship works is that Caress had hired Carson Kressley [the “Queer Eye” guy] as a spokesperson, and as part of the ad agreement, we had him on our women’s talk show. Now, Carson wasn’t scripted by Caress, he just came on the show. It was a women’s talk show and he acted as though he were on the “Ellen” show, for instance.

You guys put your content everywhere: YouTube, Hulu, Vimeo–all of them. Are you concerned about a platform like Hulu setting up a pay wall and potentially adding a level of complication to your viewers’ experience?

We’re not concerned yet. If Hulu were to change to paid content, I don’t know that it would start with the Web originals. Do I imagine that three years from now that Web original programming will have the same kind of brand impact as something that comes out of NBC? Yes. Because Internet TV is changing everything. Our programs can be viewed on TiVo. They can be viewed on FiOS. Once, we had the kind of loyalty that might warrant it, would I be interested in selling some content behind a wall? Yeah, I’d look at it.

So you are confident that you can turn a profit without making people pay?

You know, you are talking to an old ad guy here. We have always said we’d never be able to pay for the next thing with just advertising and yet we always have. I believe we will pay, not for everything. For some things.

So if advertising is what’s “Next,” then what will those “New” ads have to do differently?

The advertisers that do really well with us, the ones who really get it, are the ones who come to me and say they want to hear their products advertised in the voice of the show host. They want the ad to sound like the voice of that community. They don’t want me to use their eight words that are in every print ad. They don’t want me to say that they are 100 percent reliable, safe and colorfast. They want me to talk about their brand in the way that the community will connect with it.

Another area that I think is hugely compelling is in the area of interactivity. And I think fashion is just the first place it should go. The idea of watching something on TV and then being able to immediately buy what the actor is wearing is just incredible to me.

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