Cook, Eisner Try New Model for Online Video A new venture from former Disney head Michael Eisner and best-selling author Robin Cook tests a different sort of business model for online video. The two have launched a 50-part video series that serves as a prequel to Cook's new novel.
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Cook, Eisner Try New Model for Online Video

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Cook, Eisner Try New Model for Online Video

Cook, Eisner Try New Model for Online Video

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And here is a term that gets thrown around quite a bit these days: media convergence. That means we don't just watch television, or play a videogame, or talk on a cell phone. No, we are supposed to download videogames about TV shows onto the cell phones.

Today's the beginning of one more experiment in media convergence. It's called "Foreign Body." It's a series of 50 videos to watch on your computer or cell phone - two minutes per episode, one episode released per day. And when that's over with, the story continue in a book printed on actual paper.

As Nate DiMeo reports, "Foreign Body" is a collaboration between two people who made their fortunes in what we could now call old media.

NATE DiMEO: At 66 years old, Michael Eisner spent much of his life on movie sets. And he'll tell you, they can be tedious places. A "Saturday Night Fever" dance number or a "Raiders of the Lost Ark" stunt sequence - he produced both of those, by the way - can take a week or more to shoot. His latest production is a different story.

Unidentified Man #1: Okay, everybody. Here we go. (Unintelligible) ready?

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.

Unidentified Man #1: Okay. Settle in. And rolling camera.

DiMEO: A tiny crew is blasting through scenes in a matter of minutes, equipped with little more than what your neighbor uses to record his daughter's basketball game.

Unidentified Man #1: Okay, could you say your line again?

Unidentified Woman #1: For my meeting downtown, I was hoping you could give me a lift?

Unidentified Man #1: Okay, good. Okay, we're going to do this...

DIMEO: "Foreign Body" is the third low-budget, quick-and-dirty Web series produced by Eisner's year-old broadband production company. He seems to have enjoyed the press coverage about the first two.

Mr. MICHAEL EISNER: The reviews were basically how surprising that this kind of old world, aging, dyspeptic movie executive actually can make a show that may be relevant to the Internet generation; that was the basis of the reviews, and it's not surprising.

DIMEO: Those reviews caught the eye of an aging novelist who had noticed that his readers weren't getting any younger. Robin Cook virtually invented the medical thriller with his book "Coma" in 1977.

Mr. ROBIN COOK: (Novelist) The trouble is now, there's so many other things trying to get people's attention; in particular the younger people. And rather than try to fight it, you really have to kind of use it.

DIMEO: Robin Cook set up a dinner with Michael Eisner and pitched him an idea. He had a book coming out this summer about Americans going to India for cut-rate operations, full of suspense and murder and sexy nurses. How about a series of videos that would be a prequel? Maybe the same young people who turned "Lonely Girl 15" into a phenomenon will watch it and buy the book.

Mr. COOK: Now, here we are. And so I think that's incredible, to tell you the honest truth.

DIMEO: The whole series will cost about $500,000 to produce. The technical term for that investment, when you're playing at Eisner's level, is chump change.

Mr. COOK: I have no idea if that's going to work or not. It just seemed like, hey, well, why not? We'll try it.

DIMEO: And that sense of, hey, let's give it a whirl, is one of the fundamental principles of his whole business model. The University of Southern California's Ken Wilbur studies money in the new world of Web video.

Mr. KEN WILBUR:(University of Southern California) Advertisers are falling over themselves to find good opportunities to advertise on the Web where they know that their brand is going to be next to something which is engaging, interesting, is not violating any copyright laws, and is not sexually explicit. And those opportunities are rare.

DIMEO: That puts a known commodity like Eisner at a great advantage. And Wilbur says 500 grand might be nothing in the movie or television world, but it buys production values that stand out in a landscape littered with mediocre home movies. And when Eisner or another big money player gets involved, they can be aggressive in ways that amateurs can't.

Mr. WILBUR: You and I could start a company right now, but if we're any good, that would take us away from other projects that might be more likely to pay us money. And the thing Eisner brings is the credibility to say to a talented group of people, if you work with me, we're going to be able to monetize this.

DIMEO: So far, even Eisner hasn't been able to find a way to make big money in Internet video. But the money will come. He can feel it. It may be the next great entertainment medium. It may be the future of culture and commerce.

Mr. EISNER: It may be all baloney.

DIMEO: But at these prices, Michael Eisner will take a shot.

From NPR News, I'm Nate DiMeo.

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