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Cult hits grow Web roots

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In an effort to rev up demand for popular entertainment titles, Web sites are introducing innovative new products for fans and reaping new profits in the process.

Where Hollywood used to utilize Web pages to promote films and fill seats, popular science fiction franchises like "The Matrix" and "Doctor Who" are Webcasting new episodes to drum up interest between releases, then selling the products on DVD.

"When you put something out that's good, people will shout about it," said Spencer Lamm, Matrix Internet team leader.

Before "The Matrix Reloaded" was released to movie theaters this summer, four animated episodes, collectively known as "The Animatrix," were released on "The Matrix" Web site, one debuting each month since February.

More than 19 million of the large animation files--ranging from 18 to 150 megabytes per episode--have been downloaded, including 8 million copies of the first installment. At one point, the downloads averaged more than 10 terabytes per day, said Lamm.

Nine episodes of "The Animatrix," done in the Japanese style of animation called anime, were completed. The episodes were originally intended to be free downloads until executives at AOL Time Warner, struck by the quality of the work, devised the DVD concept. Sales of the DVD exceeded expectations, debuting at No. 2 on Billboard's DVD sales chart.

"You can't give something good away and not have people want to own it," Lamm said.

A similar animated approach was used to cater to fans of the cult hit "Doctor Who." The long-running BBC science fiction serial--a Sunday night fixture on WTTW-Ch. 11 in the '80s and early '90s-- offered a Flash-animated serial from an original script by the nowdeceased author Douglas Adams. In November, the BBC will offer a new animated serial, with popular British actor Richard E. Grant taking over the title voice.

For six straight weeks, starting in May, the cult section of the BBC's Web site released 25-minute episodes from a 1979 script, "Shada," by Adams, best known for the novel "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." The adaptation was written as a radio play and is available in both animated and audio formats.

"Shada's" Flash-based animation was limited, but the effect was a new lease on life for a franchise nearing its 40th anniversary-- helping to fuel rumors of a "Doctor Who" TV revival.

No new series yet

So far, the BBC has said it is content to serve and retain the series' established fans through the animated serial, though a representative said a DVD version of the Grant-voiced cartoon is expected. A feature film may also be in the works, according to a recent British media report.

Throughout the original 6-week run, "Shada" brought in 200,000 new viewers, numbers comparable to digital TV programming in the U.K.

Its success lead to the more fully animated follow-up due in November. If the response is strong enough, more episodes will follow, and the BBC currently considers "Doctor Who" an ongoing activity.

"'Doctor Who' has an amazingly faithful, eager online audience," said James Goss, senior content producer for BBC Interactive. "So it's fantastic to reward them with extra content while at the same time trying out new things for BBCi."

"Doctor Who" doesn't have an overtly commercial mandate, since it's broadcast on a publicly owned outlet.

"We have to make our work accessible to as wide an audience as possible," Goss said. "It's part of our public service remit. The BBC is funded by a license fee paid by people in the U.K. to use our services."

Interactive offerings grow

Those services include an expanding progression of materials on the BBC's Web site, ranging from reprinting e-books for "Doctor Who" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," to "Ghosts of Albion," an original project co-written by "Buffy" actress Amber Benson, who has produced both an animated and e-book edition.

Like "The Matrix," the BBC has marketed their online material in different formats. Previous online "Doctor Who" serials have been issued as audio CDs, and the BBC is expected to issue November's serial on DVD.

One new media professional thinks the varied product approach is good for Internet-based entertainment offerings.

"The BBC uses the 'Doctor Who' cartoons to promote an upcoming DVD," said Kelli Feigley, director of Dreaming Tree Films, a Chicago Internet entertainment company. "But heck, who needs the DVD--we'll just charge a couple bucks per download instead.

"Actually, we'll do both of these, and have the DVD for rent at Blockbuster. Why? Because people consume things differently--some like to rent, others want to own, some will use the Internet."

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  • APA 6th ed.: Allen, Todd (2003-07-26). Cult hits grow Web roots. Chicago Tribune p. sec. 2, p. 3.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Allen, Todd. "Cult hits grow Web roots." Chicago Tribune [add city] 2003-07-26, sec. 2, p. 3. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Allen, Todd. "Cult hits grow Web roots." Chicago Tribune, edition, sec., 2003-07-26
  • Turabian: Allen, Todd. "Cult hits grow Web roots." Chicago Tribune, 2003-07-26, section, sec. 2, p. 3 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Cult hits grow Web roots | url= | work=Chicago Tribune | pages=sec. 2, p. 3 | date=2003-07-26 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 June 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Cult hits grow Web roots | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 June 2024}}</ref>