Variety series "HitRecord on TV," the latest offering from Participant Media's Pivot network, has taken a particularly nuanced and sophisticated approach to digital literacy, forging a path to pay for online-sourced television content even as it entertains its audience of savvy millennials.
Created by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the show bows Jan. 18. Each episode boasts a specific theme, and features shorts, songs and animated clips created via hitRECord, the collaborative global online community of artists founded by Gordon-Levitt. The show's premiere episode, for example, includes a short starring Elle Fanning that includes animation, voiceover, music and editing all created by hitRECord members through hundreds of contributions.
Better still, creatives' pay doesn't rely on "HitRecord" turning a profit, the traditional model for many TV programs.
"We didn't want to wait years (for compensation)," Gordon-Levitt said. The show receives "$50,000 per episode for eight episodes, which adds up to $400,000 total. Everyone whose work is featured in that episode gets a piece of that $50,000, and then if the show goes into profit, we'll put those profits up 50-50 as well."
Pivot prexy Evan Shapiro said that making sure content creators get paid is part of the mission statement of the network. "In a world where Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter are using your content to make money and pay you nothing, Joe and "HitRecord" have turned that on its head," Shapiro noted.
Compensation for online-sourced material, often created by young adults, has been a hot-button issue for other nets, including Sean Combs' recently launched music cabler Revolt, which gives budding musicians a chance to showcase their talent on the net. Details regarding payment for that content were murky upon Revolt's 2013 launch, raising some eyebrows in the media.
Not only does "HitRecord on TV" pay creatives for their work, but the show and the production company maintain only nonexclusive rights to the content that's used. This means creatives keep control over their work even after it has graced Pivot's airwaves.
Gordon-Levitt said that while multiple networks were interested in the series, he was struck not only by the socially conscious work that Participant Media does in the entertainment space, but also, given his show's logistical needs, by the flexibility of the fledgling cabler, which launched last summer with more than 40 million subscribers. The net and actor made a deal for the show with a straight-to-series order last year in Sundance.
"HitRecord on TV," exec produced by Gordon-Levitt, Jared Geller, Brian Graden, Jeff Skoll, Belisa Balaban and Evan Shapiro, certainly represents Pivot's most high-profile program to date. Gordon-Levitt's reputation as a creative (his directorial debut "Don Jon" won praise from critics), his social-media footprint (more than 2.5 million followers on Twitter alone) and celeb status all figure to be catnip for a network looking to build a loyal audience and brand awareness.
Still, Shapiro said he was pleased by how well the network's other original programming, like dramedy series "Please Like Me" and "Raising McCain," hosted by Meghan McCain, the daughter of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was resonating. "Joe didn't want to be considered the (show) the entire network was hanging on," Shapiro said.
Mostly, Gordon-Levitt is excited to give artists a platform to show off their work. "The point of hitRECord is never to make maximum money," he said. "There's a quote I like from, I believe, Walt Disney: 'We don't make movies to make money; we make money to make more movies.' That's how I view it."