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

5/25/11Follow @curtwoodward

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it as long in the tooth, IMDb has actually been around for many years, and has been owned by Amazon for more than a decade.

If you’ve got more nominees for Seattle-area startups and early stage companies doing business (or trying to) with Hollywood, send them my way—either in the comments, over on our Facebook page, or via my e-mail address below.

Exponential Entertainment: Dave Long’s new company takes the game-promotions concept to a post-boardgame age. The company has developed an array of online games that revolve around photos, quotes, and other tie-ins to movies—for example, promotional games for the new movie “Bridesmaids” include a “Wheel of Fortune” inspired word puzzle that reveals images from the movie.

Exponential distributes the games on Facebook, MSN, and other websites, along with hosting them on its own Hollywood Player site, where players can earn credits that are redeemed for movie swag. “The studios love it because it’s much more effective than putting a banner ad on somebody’s site for a movie that they’ve got coming out,” Long says.

The company’s co-founder is Bill Cooper, who was CTO at Screenlife. Listed as a board member is Ed Fries, who started Microsoft Game Studios and co-founded the Xbox project. Exponential Entertainment has been around for about 18 months, Long says, operating on friends-and-family investment with an eye toward another fundraising round later this year. A new version of the Hollywood Player site is coming in the next couple of months.

Hypershow: Tim Harader, the president of Seattle-based Hypershow, had the idea for rich, interactive digital movies years ago when he was still working at Microsoft. It just took the technology about a decade to catch up, he says.When it finally arrived, Harader and co-founder Dan Gehred bolted from Redmond to pursue their startup dreams.

So far, it’s looking like a good move: Hypershow is already the software powering Paramount’s new Silverlight Enhanced Movies, adding deep layers of interactivity to movies like “True Grit,” “School of Rock,” and “Waiting for Superman.” The movies are delivered as individual apps on Windows Phone 7 devices, with a next-generation version of the extras and special features you’d get in a traditional DVD or Blu-Ray. That includes the ability to share little clips on social networks, actor bios and other movie information, and even a “Scene It?” mode.

The similarity to the packaged disc experience is no mistake. The goal, Harader says, is to give Hollywood studios a digital equivalent of the high-quality physical model that they can sell for a premium price. That sounds like a bold bet in this age of dirt-cheap digital content, but Harader says the content owners simply haven’t had the ability to control enough of their digital production and deliver a more premium product until now. “A certain segment of the population does like the idea of owning their own content, whether it’s movies or music or books—the fact that they’re electronic doesn’t make it that much different. It’s about the idea of ownership,” he says.

Hypershow’s technology also allows these enhanced movies to be downloaded or streamed to Mac and PC, and additional mobile platforms are coming. But Harader says advancements in home-streaming devices point to where Hypershow really wants to be.

“The fact that Netflix is popular on PCs and Macs is only because it’s not ubiquitous in the living room yet. It’s becoming more and more so, but as soon as all these types of experiences are available in the living room, that’s when it gets much more interesting,” he says.

The company doesn’t view itself as a startup, Harader says—it’s post-product, post-revenue, … Next Page »

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

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