"Family Guy" creator makes bold move online

Wed Jul 9, 2008 1:46am EDT

Actor and producer Seth MacFarlane arrives at the first annual Spike television's ''Guys Choice'' awards show in the Studio City area of Los Angeles June 9, 2007. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas

Actor and producer Seth MacFarlane arrives at the first annual Spike television's ''Guys Choice'' awards show in the Studio City area of Los Angeles June 9, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Gus Ruelas

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - When September rolls around, the most anticipated new program of the fall season will be on the Internet instead of television.

That's when "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane will release exclusively via Google a series of 50 two-minute animated vignettes.

Given how outrageous "Family" is in the humor department, there's reason enough to watch MacFarlane's next creation. But if you think his ribald jokes are audacious, that's nothing compared to the distribution strategy for this program, titled "Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy."

Not since NBC's ill-fated series "quarterlife" has this much hype visited a bridging of the PC-TV divide, only this time it's warranted. For once, talent and technology are coming together at equally high levels.

But "Cavalcade" is still something of a risky prospect, and there already are a few red flags worth noting.

"Cavalcade" will be presented online through the Internet giant's AdSense network, which can syndicate video content to advertising slots on thousands of Web sites targeted to reach specific demographics. Each two-minute episode will have advertising embedded in several different formats ranging from preroll to "sponsored by" styles increasingly common online. Click on an episode, and the revenue is split among MacFarlane, Google, the host site and Media Rights Capital (MRC), which brokered the deal.

The very fact that Google has a deal with MacFarlane at all seems strange considering that News Corp., which happens to own Google rival MySpace, announced a gargantuan $100 million deal with MacFarlane in May to keep him at 20th Century Fox, making him the richest series creator in television.

You would think that kind of dough would be enough to give Fox the de rigueur "first look" option on any intellectual property MacFarlane generates. Given that this Google deal has been brewing for almost a year, how could it not have been a factor in negotiations with Fox?

Fox presumably could have satisfied MacFarlane's Internet ambitions with some kind of run on MySpace, which might not be Google but has a formidable distribution footprint in its own right. Either MacFarlane's reps wanted to add too many zeroes to the deal to attach an Internet component or Fox didn't feel there were enough zeroes in ad revenue from such a deal to care. The latter seems much less likely.

If MacFarlane and MRC walked away from Fox because Google gave better deal terms online, that could end up being a critical error. Because if there is an Achilles' heel to the "Cavalcade" venture, it is its reliance on new content.

Had MacFarlane kept his Internet exploits at Fox, he could have utilized the cherished "Family" characters that would have been a bigger draw. Perhaps MacFarlane would have been better served releasing his new "Family" TV spinoff "The Cleveland Show" online rather than Fox.

The "Cavalcade" deal is all the more surreal because it calls into question the very nature of Google. "We feel that we have re-created the mass media," was what Kim Malone Scott, director of sales and operations at Google AdSense, told the New York Times.

When a company famous for claiming not to be a media company pretty much states outright that it is a media company, is it a media company?

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter