Thursday, April 12, 2012

Digital Entertainment Network

In late 1998, working graveyard shift at a newspaper/auto ad shop, I got word that a new digital media start-up wanted me to interview. I jumped at the chance, and after word I'd been hired, swiftly quit the lousy ad job I'd been subjected to.

It looked like I was one of the first dozen or so hires at Digital Entertainment Network (DEN), and it was pretty much a big empty warehouse house in Santa Monica by this time. Sean, who'd hired me, told me that's I'd be learning Flash, which I was excited about. I'd been moving into animation and Flash was the future for web animation.

Among the founders of the company was Michael Huffington, who'd explained to the dozen or so of us in a meeting that he'd recently come out of the closet. It was an odd thing to witness, but everything at the company so far seemed a bit surreal. I spent the next 2 months or so, basically learning software (Flash, After Effects, HTML, etc.). It was amazing the level of enthusiasm that was building now that the company had grown to about 150 hires by this time. They had a roster of shows they were to produce in house, and us, the interactive team, were to put them on the web. The execs (who were NBC/ Channel 1 alumni) were convinced we were set to be the next HBO.

We'd screened a bunch of the shows they'd produced thus far and most folks were pretty underwhelmend with what they'd seen. They'd taken the concept of narrowcasting pretty literally, and had a show each for Punk Rockers, Asian Americans, Hispanics and Christians, that seemed at best, condescending, and on track to offend each of the groups respectfully. The upshot was, the group of us were asked to come up with our own ideas for shows. A few of us brainstormed and came up with a slew of ideas that weren't so obviously narrowcasted, and were basically what we'd want to see.

As all of this was happening, major sponsors (Microsoft, Ford, Pepsi) had pledged millions to the company, and it looked like DEN was set to do what it had intended. They'd sent up a 'soft launch' in April, and when the actual videos were streamed on the web, the video size was about 200 X 140. For most, it didn't seem like the major online media revolution that was promised (THIS is supposed to compete with TV?), but the founder assured everyone that, as bandwidth increased, video size would follow. Little did we know, things were about o get much more interesting.


1 comment:

olive47 said...

I remember when Huffington came out to us in that meeting as "bisexual". No one cared about his sexuality; but it was the oddest thing I'd ever witnessed in that kind of business setting, and the general consensus was "Huh?"

Can't wait to read the next installment, as you're right.. it just got weirder.