Seattle Goes Hollywood: Four Startups Aiming to Help Studios, Celebs Embrace the Digital Age

5/25/11Follow @curtwoodward

When Dave Long first started pitching movie studios on a new way to market their old titles, he encountered a fair bit of skepticism. After all, what could a boardgame entrepreneur from soggy Seattle possibly teach Hollywood about selling its own stars?

Nearly 10 years later, the “Scene It?” brand—which builds trivia games around movie and TV clips—has been adapted to iconic titles like Seinfeld, South Park, James Bond, and Harry Potter. The company that Long co-founded, Screenlife, was acquired by Paramount in 2008 and has sold some 20 million games worldwide.

And Hollywood’s major players, Long says, have a different feeling about visitors from up north. “There is a little mystique around Seattle,” he says. “I’ve had big executives say ‘Hey, what’s in the coffee up there? It seems like there’s a lot of creativity up there.’”

That kind of reception from entertainment bigwigs is helping to fuel an emerging cluster of Seattle companies that are taking innovative approaches to selling entertainment’s products and personalities. These entrepreneurs are building on the area’s traditional strengths in digital media and gaming, with hopes of helping the entertainment industry navigate the fundamentally shifted economics of the digital age.

The roster includes Hark, a startup that aims to spread bite-size chunks of content through the social sphere; Hypershow, a quietly profitable company enabling richly layered digital movies; and Giant Thinkwell, an incubator-stage company that wants to help celebrities of any stripe reach their fans through quirky social games.

Dave Long is back on the job as well. His new company, Exponential Entertainment, is working with the studios to develop promotional digital games—and this time, they’re starting with some major first-run movies.

Building bridges to the star-studded streets of Hollywood still has its challenges, even in a highly networked age. It’s simply harder to build relationships and keep your finger on the pulse of an industry when you’re hundreds of miles away from Sunset Boulevard.

But there are also advantages to being based in the Northwest, says David Aronchick, the founder and CEO of Hark.

“It’s far more cost-effective to work out of Seattle, and you obviously have an incredible depth of technical talent here that allows you to execute very quickly comparatively, and do some really cool things,” he says. “We’re not unique, but we certainly have a lot of cross-pollination because we’re a very migratory city. We pull in a lot of people from all over the place, especially people from on the West Coast. And this is a great place to set up shop.”

Here’s a deeper look at the startups I identified as part of Seattle’s emerging entertainment innovation cluster. I didn’t include folks who produce entertainment-themed content of their own, like the blog publisher Wetpaint, for example. The focus here is mostly on companies that are aiming for business partnerships with the entertainment industry.

Also purposely left off the list was a major name—the Internet Movie Database, or IMDb, which is owned by Amazon.com and headquartered in Seattle. Although it might seem kind of odd to think of … Next Page »

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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