For people who may have a hearing impairment and could not listen to the recent Podcast of Oa episode where we interviewed David Coduto and Chehin Toumi from SMGO.TV, or for those who just want to read the interview, here is the transcript of our conversation. In the days following the interview SMGO has moved ahead and begun collecting pledges for funds for a third season of Young Justice in hopes that they can prove to Warner Brothers that there is indeed an audience that is willing to put their money into funding the return of the series.
The idea is to begin with Young Justice mainly since the lower production budget would be an easier to attain goal. There has been no shortage of cynical responses mainly from the uninformed who are warning people to not give any money to SMGO when in fact that’s not what they’re asking you to do – we’re being asked to make a financially binding commitment for whatever amount of money we’d give Warner Brothers if they were to move ahead with the project, nothing more. No actual funds would be collected until SMGO not only gets enough pledges to warrant a follow up meeting with Warner Brothers, but Warner Brothers agrees to move forward with it. The goal would be to show the studio that this model would work and then move forward with Green Lantern: The Animated Series as well. You can be a part of the initiative by visiting SMGO.TV’s website.
Myron Rumsey (MR) – Joining me are David Coduto and Chehin Toumi from SMGO.TV who are here to talk about their site, their meeting with Warner Brothers and their initial attempt to bring back both series. David and Chehin, welcome to the Podcast of Oa!
David (DC) – Hi Guys! This is Dave Coduto, I’m one of the co-founders here.
Chehin (CT) – And I’m Chehin, the other co-founder. I had the original idea for SMGO in the first place.
DC – Yeah, it was his idea and we went along with it and it’s been great…been a great ride.
MR – Cool, I think everybody in the DC Nation fan world got all excited about this. Since this is a comic book podcast let’s use the term “secret origin”; can you give us a brief secret origin of SMGO and why you created SMGO and kind of what’s the purpose for it?
CT – Like I said it was my idea and like the way I had the idea was I’m a big geek and I was watching Stargate Universe and at the end of the second season there was like this big cliffhanger at the end and I was, like, “When’s season three coming?” And I saw the show was canceled! And I was like, “what the heck!” I would be willing to pay for it. So I said, “So maybe there are other fans so I started to work on that – to get the fans to pay for their show and crowd funding and I explained the story to Dave.
DC – Yeah, I joined in, uh we went to grad school together, we both have MBA’s, and he came to me and goes, “Dave, I got this really good idea.” And I’m like, “What’s the idea, man?” And he goes, “let’s see if we can crowd fund some canceled TV shows!” I’m like, that’s a brilliant idea, let’s see if we can do this and that’s kind of how it started and we’ve gone through a couple of pivots since then but what you see is pretty much what you got right now so that’s where we are.
MR – So you guys are really kind of embracing that, you know the whole digital marketplace and digital media versus broadcast TV.
DC – Yeah, I think the way we look at it is that we’re a way to give fans a voice and to provide a better way to kind of bring shows back; I mean we almost presented ourselves as like a cable network.
CT -I’m from France and since I moved to the U.S. three years ago I didn’t get a cable subscription – all my show I watch on my computer through Netflix or Amazon Prime.
That’s the way I watch TV and like Nielsen ratings and all those things are for me like things of the past.
MR – It seems kind of fortuitous that you guys kind of launched your beta site not long before DC Nation fans heard about Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series going away.
DC – (laughs) Well, our timing is really… so we had the original idea about two years ago and we said that we see when a time when people are going to want to do this, they’re going to want to pay for their media and they’re going to want to have kind of a say in the programming that goes on. We saw this two years ago, so like I said we went through a couple iterations, but basically back in January of this year we’re like I think it’s ready, it’s time to launch and it was just fortuitous that we ended up hitting it. I think big we launched two days after Veronica Mars and like, I don’t know, like a week after both of these shows got told they’re done and so it is just really amazing timing, I don’t know if we could have timed it better really!
MR – Now how did Young Justice and Green Lantern end up on SMGO? Did you guys put it there intentionally or did someone approach you?
CT – So the way it started it was, really at the beginning we were not into animated series, we didn’t think there was a market for it and we were looking for traditional TV shows. One of my cousins said …. go out in the Tumblr world and the fans of Green Lantern and Young Justice just completely flooded the website with requests on our “suggest” functionality. So we decided to you put it on just to give it a shot and like a couple of hours after the server was crashed!
DC – So, the fans basically crashed our website! So what we were trying to do was just test, you know, test the functionality, make sure everything was working great. They found us actually when we were beta-ing, we were just using this one small focus group. Basically, told 20 people about what we were trying to do and during that first week we had 20,000 people! (Laughter) We were not set up – we had it on a staging server and it was like, “Oh, God!!” (Laughter) It was great, it was a happy surprise! That was kind of how it came about.
MR – How did, because it got the attention Warner Brothers, did you approach Warner Brothers or did Warner Brothers get in touch with you or did somebody from DC Entertainment get in touch with you guys?
DC – Well, actually one of our contacts said, “uh, you need to go talk to..”; basically we’re trying to do this through a lot of back channels, that’s how we started. We had some contacts we were trying to go through and you know it’s kind of slow there. Again, we didn’t expect to only have a week to reach these guys that’s what happened. We expected a couple months and well anyway what our advisors said after we blew up like this was, “go straight to the New Business Development Unit”. That’s what we did and we spoke with them, and spoke with some creators. That’s basically how we get started with this, or at least meeting them.
MR – So that they obviously wanted to talk about your intentions?
DC – They wanted to learn about us.
CT – As soon as well called them they said we’re going to have to set up a meeting and that’s when the meeting…… which is pretty awesome because when people, when we talk to people and say we have a meeting with Warner Brothers they say it usually takes months to get a meeting with them.
DC – I should also point out that the passion and enthusiasm of the fans is really what got us that meeting, I mean you look at times that fans have ever had a say in these mass media decisions where even a studio has looked at is a show that they’ve canceled and they’re like, “oh, well maybe”. We could only really think of three other times – one was Star Trek, the original series, was about to be canceled and they did a petition and got the show back. The other one was Jericho, I don’t know if you watched that a show a couple of years ago – they sent a bunch of peanuts – then the last was Chuck where bunch of people bought Subway sandwiches. Those are the only other three times that this is ever happened where they’ve turned and been, like, “Oh, wow!”
So that passion is a huge, huge..I don’t know it’s amazing really and it made an impact.
MR – I think when we look at the creators of, and I can’t speak to both shows because I’m really more involved in the Green Lantern series, the creators and the people behind that show really engaged in social media with the fans and as a matter of fact the producer of Green Lantern: The Animated Series, Giancarlo Volpe, they were meeting in a deli in California on a weekly basis and having fan hangouts, watching the shows with the people who made series which I, you know, you don’t see that kind of thing anymore – well actually you never see that kind of thing! So I think those guys really had their finger on the pulse of what the fans were saying. I know there were a lot of things on the Internet – you know we were tweeting every weekend trying to trend certain phrases and still are, and they participated in that, so I know when the whole thing came up on SMGO, people were like, “get you out there and vote for it” and voice what you want. They were made aware of it from that perspective so I’m sure that probably helped a little bit, but you guys had – did you have one meeting or a series of meetings?
DC – We had one big meeting and it was a lot of heavy hitters – we can’t name names – it was some heavy hitters.
MR – Is it fair to say that it was people not only from Warner Brothers Animation but maybe DC Entertainment as well?
CT – It was definitely Warner Brothers corporate, maybe a few from Warner Brothers Animation. It was definitely the top floor of Warner Brothers headquarters.
DC – Yeah, so it was a big meeting!
MR – And you guys have kind of let word out that the meeting, you had the meeting and there was no decision made at the meeting, but they got ahold of you later on and basically gave you a verbal no.
DC – Yes, that is exactly what happened. We were really hoping that they would, you know, make a decision there so we could at least let fans know then so it was actually pretty tense for us waiting the last two weeks and we didn’t really want to say anything because we didn’t want to upset that apple cart. So unfortunately we’re really sorry that we had to remain quiet for that long but the hope is that we from now on will very, very vocal and we won’t have to do that anymore.
MR – I think sometimes you have to just because of the nature of the, you know, you’re talking about a multimillion dollar IP for a corporation and they’re not saying anything right up front you have to just hold back and not say anything. If you get fans upset because you guys haven’t gotten a response, they may start getting more vocal about it and then that’s going to make them upset that the studio hasn’t responded. Then they might be like, “get these people away from us”.
DC – I’m glad you understand!
MR – I do, but I’m not sure everybody does. Do you get any, not to pick your brains, but when you guys had you meeting with Warner Brothers – do they know that fans, that there’s an audience out there? There’s a vocal group of people who want the shows back – do they get it or are they behind their ivory tower and they don’t really know what goes on out in the real-world?
DC – Well, I mean they love the fans but I don’t really think we’re in a position to speak for them. But I would say that, I would say that they really did notice this big push; that passion really did come through.
CT -It’s only because of the work from the social media and push from all the fans and everything that we got this meeting; by ourselves it would have been impossible. I think they recognize that all those tweets at Warner Brothers, all those posts on Facebook and on Tumblr are important for them because they gave us this meeting and, I can tell, there were like twenty executives in this room, so it must have been really important for them to listen to the fans.
MR – I think as a fan that’s that that’s been our frustration because they haven’t really acknowledged the fan response other than to say, “thank you for your interest in DC Nation, we have more new episodes of Beware the Batman and Teen Titans Go coming up!”, without really addressing the concerns of the fans for the two shows that they really love. I think that’s kind of what I was looking forward to see her do they even know that there’s a resistance out there or a fan following that’s very vocal about it because we don’t hear that on our end. I think that’s really what drives the creation of what you’re trying to do with SMGO is, as fans of shows we all lose shows we love but we always feels like we don’t have a voice unless we’re 10,000,000 people strong and they can’t deny it when you flood them with peanuts or what have you. You feel like you’re shouting into the wind.
DC – Yeah! We really, I mean the idea we had is to really kind of empower fans in a way to give them a sense of ownership that maybe they didn’t have before. I mean this is, I don’t know, we think that as we push forward it’s becomes really important, especially with invention the Internet, to really include fans. Because, you know, ultimately they’re the people that watch the content.
CT -Every time they have a show canceled they have this outcry from fans. We were talking to an executive and he was telling us that, at some point, it just becomes white noise for them. They get used to that and when created SMGO it was to, with crowd funding, make an offer than makes economic sense for the studio because this way they can understand. Kind of “put your money where your mouth is.”
DC – Yeah, basically, this is a complex kind of thing. We’re kind of taking that whole web interactivity thing and making it, like growing it up in a way and saying that you’re starting to add money and making real things and monetizing this enthusiasm and allowing people to really make decisions with their pocketbooks. This is a lot more powerful if you really think about it than just saying, “Yes, I want this.” It’s saying, “Yes, I want this so much that I’m actually going to put some money on the table and make it a business decision”, which is, they’re businesses you know?
MR – In an added twist it was the fact that they didn’t bring in money from toy sales is why they didn’t renew Green Lantern so…..(laughter) Especially when you look at the Veronica Mars thing – that was a case of Warner Brothers saying to the people who wanted to do this movie, “if you can raise $2 million we will get behind it as a studio”. I was kind of surprised when it was discussed that they had said no that they didn’t at least say, “well you know we might be interested if you could get this many people to submit this much money.”
DC – I, you know it’s tough, like I said I can’t really speak for the reasons – there may be other things that we don’t know, but that being said we’re not trying to say that they can’t produce new shows, but let us raise this amount of money and then you could produce even more content. You can produce those two new shows plus one online and…I don’t know why they didn’t give us a number like that. So that was a bit disappointing us.
MR – So, if Warner Brothers had said yes and you can move forward, the next stage would have been asking people to, like a Kickstarter, say I’d be willing to donate this amount of money and not really giving you that money until you reach your goal within that window of time that you’ve got to work with. I think Kickstarter is 30 days and I think you said it was 90 days your situation. What would it have been like for fans – would it have been something that we would’ve gone to your website to stream or would have been available digitally or is it really you guys never got that part of it?
DC – Well we were hoping to stream it on SMGO, basically the one constant that we had was that no matter what, if you were going to pay for this content that we were providing a lot of background footage and we would also, you know, behind-the-scenes stuff and also a commercial free viewing experience for the show when it was out. Stream to the website – that was the bare minimum and then, in high def, too. And for people that couldn’t do that we actually were planning on offering a package that was kind of like a direct download but this is something like the rewards and stuff was something that we kinda wanted to work out with the studios and we came up with some really good ideas, but obviously I thinks that is generally the way we’d want to do it.
So once the process, you want to know the whole process, so basically if we met the goal then everyone would be cashed out. Our payment system is kind of unique in that we can’t cash anyone out unless two things happen. Because what we’re doing is a little different than Indiegogo and Kickstarter – we’e actually entering into individual billing agreements with everyone that crowdfunds. So it’s saying given a set of circumstances you will pay this amount of money. So the short of that is if Warner agrees to make the show within a reasonable amount of time and stream it then you’ll get these rewards, and then they also have to supply a bank account number and go through an underwriting process. That’s kind of the payment.
Once that was done then we were planning on streaming it commercial rate for anyone that pledged for it and for people that didn’t we would have commercials, kinda do like a Hulu thing.
CT – And at the end of the season people would receive their rewards which could be a DVD package, collectible or maybe even a tour of the studio – that’s the way we imagined it in the first place.
DC – We thought up some pretty cool stuff, too!
MR – Now Warner Brothers told you no – did they give you rationale for why they said no; did they give you or reason or did they just say no?
DC – Well I mean they were a little, um, they said that they were a little – our estimate to raise this amount was a little optimistic. They didn’t think that the fans could raise that amount of money which is kind of funny for us, cause, you know, we see the passion there and we’re like, “Yeah, no, we can do this. We can for sure do this.” But that was kind of a bummer for us, really.
MR – And you guys looked at like production costs so you kind of have…it isn’t like you’re just two guys sitting there going, “Hey, I think we can do this” – you guys actually did your homework and looked at the cost of this series and what it would cost based on viewership because you have access to the ratings and such. Is that correct?
CT – For Green Lantern, we had this information that the broadcasting cost is 50% of the production cost. Green Lantern’s production cost is close to $20 million so we would have like to raise $10 million and I think it’s a reachable amount.
DC – What we did was we looked at the market – we looked at what’s known as the DVR +7. We said, “Okay, how many people are watching this?”, and then we looked at online, how many people are watching this online – what numbers we could find. Obviously none of this is perfect.
And then we looked at the average cost of these shows given the type of show they are. So Green Lantern is an animated series, and it’s a 3D animated series and CG, so it’s a little more expensive and as Chehin noted it’s about $20 million, somewhere in that vicinity to produce one full season. Our goal was to just do a half of that – the broadcasting rights, so I don’t mind repeating that I guess. That’s kind of how we did it – we really did think, and we really still do think these are plausible numbers to reach.
CT – And if we take the average pledge of people on Indiegogo or Kickstarter we only need like 5% of the viewing population. I believe that at least 5% of Green Lantern’s hardcore fans, like you, will do anything to get their show back.
MR – I’d have probably gone triple digits, you know!
DC – That’s good!
MR – It’s one thing if I’m doing Kickstarter for a comic book a friend’s doing I might do 25 bucks, but, you know, Green Lantern: The Animated Series – I’d kick in a 100 bucks, you know, whatever! You find that level of people with that level of passion that’ll do it!
DC – Sure, and we wanted to make the rewards – we really wanted to make them really cool so, like, if you’re a collector of the series you know we thought about it, what was it?
CT – I had this idea because I also love Green Lantern, the whole comic books and everything, my ideas was to make a small lantern with the ring and everything. The lantern will hide the DVD inside, so when you bring your ring close to the lantern, then your DVD’s come out.
DC – Just cool, cool collector stuff maybe have that signed by a member of the cast or something, you know? Just COOL stuff!
MR – It makes me want to cry!
CT – I would love to get this lantern if it exists! It’d be like a super cool DVD boxed set.
MR –That would be awesome – have the top open up or something. Or have it light up. I can just see that too, my wife would be rolling her eyes at me! You know, there are just some things that you have to have! (Laughter) Now, you guys have other shows though that you’re working on correct? I was looking at the site earlier today and you have other shows that people are voting for and so on. Are you are you close to having anything ready to go further with, to go to the next level?
CT – I think, so we’ve been contacting Disney for another show we’re working on. We contacted Fox, too.
DC – Uh, DreamWorks. Funny story with Dreamworks is that they told me they can’t connect you to anyone unless they call your first. So, Dreamworks, call us!
CT – We met with another studio, too, um, I don’t know if it’s safe to….
DC – Yeah, no we probably shouldn’t say who we’ve met with other than who we already said, but we’ve we met with some of the people, so I mean it’s just a little slow sometimes but we’re making progress. We’re doing everything we can to get these shows back.
MR – I think it’s…sorry, go ahead, Chehin.
CT – All these meetings we have the same questions like – do you really think because it’s such a big amount of money, in general we’re talking at least about $10 million. They’re kind of wareful. I think we should really make a point of showing this is possible.
DC – I mean, if we can do one, if we can do one of these shows and get it to $10 million then we can do all of them. That’s what we want to do; we want to save all of them. If fans are willing to do this we think they should be able to.
MR – It’s almost like they don’t believe you can do it until you do it, and you almost have to show them. I look at the show and when I said a hundred dollars, but I mean if you think about it, I paid $60 or so to pre-buy all the episodes on Xbox Live because I don’t do network TV – I refuse to pay for the cost of cable, pay for channels I don’t want and blindly pay for content I have no voice in. I’d rather buy the content I want to watch whether I subscribe to Hulu and Netflix and buy the episodes individually of shows that I can’t get through those other two avenues. That’s what I choose to do – so if I’m already spending 60 bucks or so to buy a series full of episodes I’d certainly be willing to pay $100 to not only get them digitally and then get them on DVD or Blu-ray later on. To me that’s a no-brainer. And it’s putting the power in the consumer’s hands versus the advertisers (and the toymakers) and those kinds of things.
CT – Our idea is to give you a lot more than what you just said for $100.
DC – Yeah, make it worth your while, for sure.
MR – I think people are willing to pay a premium for the things they reallylove and I think in some cases because it may not be “mainstream”; that sometimes those shows get short shrift because are considered genre shows and they get shuffled to bad time slots, they don’t make it for whatever reason. Or they get canceled because of toy sales for toys that don’t exist! Those kinds of things happen and then you’re left pounding your head against the wall and I think we as fans are all looking for something like SMGO to be able to fund things that we believe in. We can make things happen because the power ultimately is in our hands if we choose to take that power. I think there are a lot of people who are in that pacifistic role of “I’m paying for this and I’ll take what they give me and I’ll keep watching it because if I don’t watch what they give me next then they won’t make something else even though they’ve taken away something I love.”
DC – Yeah, I mean what I think when we talked about this for a minute before. We’re not saying that they shouldn’t make new content, either – we really want them to make new content. We’re just saying that if there are groups that are willing to pay for this content that really resonates that’s strong with people then let them pay for it and let them have their content. There’s like…go ahead Chehin.
CT – There’s also, one thing is, like, finish the story!
MR – Yeah, the worst thing is when they’re in the middle of a long form story and it end before it ends!
CT – And everybody’s waiting to know what happened with Aya and Razer! What’s this thing with the Blue Lantern!? Just finish the damn story!
MR – You feel exactly the same things that all the fans are saying is that it ended with such a great bookend of the book but not quite because, as with any kind of serialized storytelling, you can’t…you can never have a clean break – you always have to have some connective tissue to what you’re going to do in a subsequent season. There were things that were in this his first season of Green Lantern that really foreshadowed “Blackest Night”, and if you haven’t read the Green Lantern comics, that’s one of the biggest DC comics miniseries in the last five years or so and they were actually putting some building blocks in that would’ve led towards that. The producers actually said, “we think we have a way to pull this non-Saturday morning kids’ show storyline off in a Saturday morning kids’ show.” I think people were really interested in seeing where that was going to go and in those two particular non-comics characters of Razer and Aya they told such a fantastic story and those are the two characters people latched onto more than anything else.
DC – Yeah, it was great!
CT – I mean, yes I loved the story and for me if you just give me one season more it would the opportunity for the writers and producers of the show, to Giancarlo Volpe for Green Lantern, to finish his story and give everybody closure. We don’t expect to do ten or twenty seasons of Green Lantern, but our purpose is to give everybody closure with SMGO and to all the shows that are just canceled in the middle of the story.
DC – Yeah, that’s the big goal. Because that really sucks!
MR – Well, is there anything else you want to say to the fans to wrap things up – is there anything else that would be useful for you guys to share with fans? Because I know there’s a lot of people online that are asking questions about the meeting and what’s going to happen and obviously this chapter is sort of closed. But is there anything if you could say anything to the fans right now that have questions I want to give you the opportunity to say whatever it is you like to say to people.
DC – Well, actually on that note we’re going to be coming out with a video series explaining the next steps as we see it and we’d really liked everyone to check those out. We’re just putting them together right now, editing them, so it shouldn’t be very long. That should really give a good idea where I think we should go.
CT- Because we will keep fighting to get this show back, that’s really what SMGO is about. So it’s not just “they said no”, what’s next it coming soon.
DC – Before we go, too, we also really want to thank you and thank the rest of, everyone who supported us – really the whole community – it’s been so phenomenal and we’re so happy to be doing this and we’re not gonna give up the fight.
MR – I think as a Green Lantern fan. Hal Jordan never takes no for an answer. (Laughter) So where there’s a will there’s a way, you know! I’ve gotta put a Green Lantern spin on it. Thank you guys for your time this afternoon to talk about this stuff because I think has been a lot of interest and people want to know what happened. The studio’s obviously not telling us anything and I certainly don’t want to put you guys in a bad position to talk about something you couldn’t talk about or that would endanger what you guys are working on. Know that there’s a whole huge fan community that are behind these two shows and are willing to do a lot of things short of maiming and killing people! (Laughter) We’re not going there, but we’re willing to flood phone lines, send emails, flood Twitter and Facebook to get it out there. I think really it falls on us as fans to not let the ball stay dropped. We have to be on at all times and keep going and it’s only going to not succeed if we give up the fight.
DC – Yep, this is a fan initiative and it’s all about you guys. Let’s do this – let’s save the shows!
MR – Thanks guys!
CT – Thank you, Myron!
DC – Thanks, Myron!