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"Ask a Ninja" Creators Use Web for Shot at Hollywood

While we all wait for the digital domain to grow up and replace established revenue streams, there are lessons to be learned from the digital pioneers who have already cracked the sustainability issue.

Silicon Alley Insider breaks down the per-episode and annual revenue of the popular “Ask a Ninja” Web video series. According to the Alley Insider, “Ninja” founders Kent Nichols and Douglas Sarine net $3,900 per spot. They produce 40 episodes a year, so their annual take-home is around $156,000.

“Ask a Ninja’s” Web success is unusual. It consistently draws 2-3 million views per month (a huge audience in Web terms), and its ad inventory is managed by Federated Media, an outside firm that works with high-traffic Web sites [disclosure: Tim O’Reilly is an investor in FM]. The increased attention from the “Ninja” series has also led to burgeoning movie careers: Nichols and Sarine are working on an update of the B-movie classic, “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” Nichols discussed the “Tomatoes” deal on his blog:

By going to straight to features, the entire showbiz world is still open to us. We’ll be able to move freely up and down the aspirational chain without being pigeonholed as the web guys. And actually we’ll be even more valuable since we have a deep understanding of the new media landscape.

We want to have careers that stretch into decades. That means diversifying and trying [to] succeed in larger, more established businesses.

The real lesson here lies in the two-pronged revenue approach Nichols and Sarine have employed: they’ve achieved a degree of short-term stability by monetizing their Web success, but they’ve also used the increased notoriety to create new opportunities in the old-school film industry. Similar motivations catalyze many of the innovations and experiments in the “free” meme we’ve discussed in recent months.

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