Venture capitalists told Drew Massey, founder of the 1990s young men's magazine P.O.V., that old media was dead and he believed them.
Five years after he sold P.O.V., Massey jumped into the battle for the entertainment dollar with an Internet company aimed at college students and twenty-somethings that serves up film clips, music videos and chatter 24 hours a day.
Think early MTV, only this time it's "broadcast" live online for worldwide audiences.
"The whole mission is to do with Internet TV what Ted Turner did with cable," said Massey, 35.
In August, ManiaTV went live from a 15,000 square foot warehouse in Denver with a roster of green "cyberjockeys" or CJs, recruited mostly through craigslist.org and hired more on personality and looks than experience. The production booth was put in an old school bus.
"It's like any new technology. You don't know what's going to work until you flip the switch," said Gregg Champion, vice president of programming. "We flipped the switch and the damn thing worked. That was scary."
Viewers can watch a somewhat grainy, halting feed from ManiaTV's Web site, or pull up a smaller pop-up window to keep on their screens as they surf the Web, chat live with CJs, who will rearrange their playlists to fit in instant requests, and ask for videos from a vault.
Massey envisions office workers and students watching while looking like they're working on their computers. An on-demand channel launches in May.
ManiaTV.com had 1 million viewers in February and has been doubling its audience each month, Massey said.
He won't disclose monthly revenues but says monthly expenses are roughly $500,000 for the 65-employee outfit with about 125 "campus maniacs" (students who earn stipends to spread the word at 300 U.S. colleges) and representatives in seven U.S. cities.
He says he expects to turn a profit in 12 months, unless ManiaTV spends more on investment and growth.
The advisory board includes director John Singleton, Forbes Publisher Rich Karlgaard and eBags co-founder Jon Nordmark, who credits Massey with getting ManiaTV off the ground for just $2 million of the $5 million raised.
Massey trademarked the ManiaTV name some 7 years ago, but waited to launch the venture until technology for showing videos online improved and until there were 20 million broadband users, the same number of cable subscribers when MTV was launched more than 20 years ago.
Still, ManiaTV faces competition from the slew of music channels on regular television, and online powerhouses like Yahoo Inc. are boosting entertainment offerings.
"There's also an awful lot of people out there producing, from VH1 to Fuse. There's not people demanding more," Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff said. "Now there's also video on demand, where you can get a lineup of whatever videos you want to see. That's the direction things are going: Program your own channel."
MTV plans to do just that with the broadband channel "MTV Overdrive," which launches Monday (April 25) with a mix of news and entertainment programming, its own studio and advertisers including Microsoft and Procter & Gamble.
ManiaTV's principals say their service differs in that viewers control the network, calling in, e-mailing requests, sending in short films and appearing on air via webcam.
The show MySpace Mixtape even picks viewers to host a one-time, one-hour show with their own video lineup.
"It's an interesting question about whether people will want to watch on their computers," Bernoff said. "If you look at the segment of people who use computers as TV sets, it's all college students. So it is a good place to start."
CJs like Tre Rudig personify the audience ManiaTV wants. He loves music, hasn't watched MTV in years and spends all day on the Internet. The twenty-something Rudig, who wants to become the David Letterman of Internet TV, left jobs teaching and coaching for what he calls a "dream job" of working on Web design for ManiaTV and as a cyberjockey.
The company is anything but button down.
It hosts Friday happy hours for employees, lets staff skp work to go to concerts, and keeps a foosball table and huge beanbag in the office. CJ Christy Kruzick said it felt like Christmas going to the South by Southwest music festival for ManiaTV!
"It was like the best four days of my life," she said. "It was like the mother ship calling me home."
So far, advertisers include Dodge, the Navy and Norelco, and ManiaTV may benefit from a growing appetite for online video advertising.
While advertisers can reach any demographic via the Internet, the market is particularly strong for 18-to-34-year-olds, said Michael Zimbalist, president of the Online Publishers Association.
"If you want to reach active young men, it's a great place to find them," Zimbalist said.
P.O.V. and ManiaTV weren't Massey's first ventures.
Before studying economics and finance at Boston College, Massey spent a summer asking businesses to offer coupons for a self-made coupon book. He gathered 73 coupons, copied them into books and sold them.
"It paid for my freshman year in college," said Massey, who grew up in Fort Collins.
He maintains ManiaTV is where he'll be for the next 20 years.
"It takes a couple decades to deliver a revolution."
By Catherine Tsai