'Arrested Development' Leads The Charge For Old Brands In New Media

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Arrested Development returning via Netflix? Just another old-media brand reviving itself on new media.

The TV show, which originally ran on Fox from 2003 to 2006 and unveils new episodes on Netflix next weekend, finds itself in splendid company. Radiohead, Louis C.K., Veronica Mars — all found their audiences with promotion and distribution from big studios and networks. Radiohead was signed to a major music label. Louis C.K. enjoyed HBO specials and TV shows. And Veronica Mars ran on two TV networks for three years.

But Radiohead defied industry norms in 2006 by selling its album In Rainbows directly to fans for whatever price they chose — and the band made millions. Louis C.K. took a similarly successful route with a comedy special in 2011, charging viewers five dollars to download the special online. And Veronica Mars fans contributed more than $5.7 million on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter — almost three times the stated goal — to pay for a movie adaptation.

Author Grady Hendrix says these models aren't exactly replicable. These are mid-list, old-media artists, not blockbuster celebrities. But their fan bases and name recognition furnishes them with a new-media edge that won't be shared, he says, "[by] some band from Cleveland that has a small following looking for Kickstarter funds for their album."

Inevitably, some old-media brands still manage to do it wrong. The blandly impersonal Kickstarter page of actress Melissa Joan Hart might as well have been written by a publicist's intern. The former star of Sabrina The Teenage Witch is soliciting funds for a new romantic comedy, but as Hendrix points out, with the slightest of smirks, "It's raised $50,000, and it's doing really badly."

On the other hand, a Kickstarter campaign from actor Zach Braff simply oozes kinship with fans. And they've rallied, giving more than $2.7 million to support a follow-up to his 2004 movie Garden State and surpassing his goal by hundreds of thousands of dollars. "There are shots of him and his brother and all these behind-the-scenes things," Hendrix notes," And you feel like, 'Hey, Zach Braff is going to answer my emails!'"

A sense of ownership and connection leads people to donate money to movies ultimately benefiting the major studios that make them. But it's important to recognize that Warner Brothers will still invest many millions in producing, distributing and promoting a Veronica Mars movie, even with Kickstarter's help.

And there could be more to come. Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities points out that rumors have swirled that late show Heroes might be resurrected by Microsoft as an Xbox exclusive. "And the only way you'll be able to watch," he says, "is on Xbox."

Giving still-grieving fans hope for new Xbox or Netflix episodes of their canceled darlings such as Caprica, Chuck or Firefly.

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