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Pop.com Plans Online Film Acquisition, Distribution Unit

March 23, 2000|GREG MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pop.com, an Internet entertainment site backed by Imagine Entertainment and DreamWorks SKG, on Wednesday unveiled a division to solicit and acquire the rights to short films and animation for online distribution.

The move marks the company's first invitation to filmmakers and animators to submit works that--if selected--would be shown on the Pop.com site alongside programming the company is producing itself, including expected contributions from co-founders Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard. The company has said it will offer about $1,000 for the right to show the films online and perhaps in other venues.

Pop, whose site isn't scheduled to be launched until later this spring, will be playing catch-up with a number of other entertainment sites, including Ifilm.com and Atomfilms.com, that have already amassed libraries of hundreds of short films shown on their sites.

But Brian Grazer, a partner at Imagine and a co-founder of Pop, said the company's grounding in traditional Hollywood gives it significant advantages over other Internet start-ups, including an ability to expand promising Internet shorts into film or television projects.

"We will buy the [short films] we believe in and either expand them on the Web or expand them into other media," Grazer said.

Grazer acknowledged that Popfest, as the new division is called, is largely modeled on Atomfilms, a Seattle-based company that--unlike other entertainment sites--acquires the rights to short films so that it can not only post them on its site, but also sell them to other outlets including cable channels and airlines.

Mika Salmi, chief executive at Atomfilms, said he is neither threatened or surprised by Pop's embrace of the Atom strategy.

"They've validated something we've been doing for a while," Salmi said. "We've got a huge head start. We've already got such a large audience and distribution network, with deals with over 30 television stations and airlines."

Graser said Pop is assembling a staff that will evaluate random submissions from filmmakers. Executives will also pursue content at film festivals and film schools.

Pop said the new division was formed in a partnership with New York-based film attorney and executive producer John Sloss, who represents independent filmmakers. Sloss and Pop.com executive Dan Sullivan will oversee the acquisition of short films for the site.

Pop is one of dozens of entertainment sites that have sprouted up on the Net over the past six months. The company was founded in October by Grazer, Howard, Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, with $50 million in financial backing from Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen.

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