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Talent agency, Net firm partner


William Morris, Narrowstep planfree online shows



By Leslie Cauley, USA TODAY
March 9, 2007
age 1B

Hollywood super-agency William Morris will announce Friday that it is teaming with an Internet video-streaming company to create a wide range of broadcast-TV-quality programs that consumers can watch on PC's, cellphones and other wireless devices.  

The partners expect many of their new offerings to be ad-supported and free to consumers.

In addition to representing some of Hollywood's biggest stars, including Russell Crowe and Jennifer Lopez, William Morris represents a number of corporate heavyweights, including General Motors, Starbucks and MySpace.

The agency, whose roots date back to Charlie Chaplin, is partnering with Narrowstep.  

The company, which was founded in 2002 and went public in 2005, competes in the fast-growing Internet video distribution market with firms including Brightcove, The FeedRoom and Maven Networks. Narrowstep's clients include ITV, the U.K.'s largest TV broadcaster, which has used it to distribute Internet video streams. ABC has also used Narrowstep's streaming technology.

"This is a case of new technologies meeting new trends," says Narrowstep CEO, David C. McCourt.  He is also CEO of Granahan McCourt, a media investment firm.

Paul Bricault, a senior vice president at William Morris, agrees: "What consumers actually want - and have wanted for some time - is to view content that is most relevant to them at the times that are most relevant to them."

Each new program will be set up as a separate company. That arrangement will give backers as well as talent flexibility on funding and day-to-day management.

McCourt says the partners hope to create hundreds of shows. Some could be offered on a pay-per-view basis. Others could be offered on a subscription basis, much like premium cable channels such as HBO.

William Morris, with more than 3,000 clients worldwide, will use its contacts in movies, TV, books and other media to help develop the programming. The agency also will reach out to its corporate clients to back projects.

Bricault says some corporate clients might want to develop their own shows around specific interests. For example, GM might want to do a show about classic cars. William Morris, drawing on its contacts around the world, would then put the talent together to help make that happen.

Some people may raise their eyebrows at the idea of the venerable talent agency trying to rework the rules of Hollywood.

Bricault says he's not worried. "Pioneers are always the guys with the arrows in their backs," he says. "I'm sure some people will take potshots at us, but we think you have to stick your foot out at some point and say the world is changing. You have to think differently."

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