Al Gore may have fathered it and Google may be its master, but Drew Massey hopes to be the Internet's newest pop-culture icon, thanks to his online television station, ManiaTV!
"Smash your TV," the 34-year-old says. "This is a new generation. TV is dead."
Instead, he wants everyone watching Maniatv.com, a 24/7 sideshow of music, videos, short films and cartoons barreling down the information superhighway in real time. "People can watch ManiaTV! at Starbucks, at the park or even on the toilet. You're not going to carry out your old TV set to the Quad with a big cable attached to it," Massey says. "We don't plan to be just another Internet dot-bomb; we want to be the Viacom of the Internet."
That's a bold statement considering how the AOL/Time Warner merger is currently faring and how webcasters Pseudo and Digital Entertainment Network both imploded spectacularly in 2000 after burning through nearly a combined $100 million. DEN's founder, Marc Collins-Rector, beat tracks in the wake of a failed $75 million IPO and a sex scandal, while Pseudo founder Josh Harris, who was once known as the digital era's Andy Warhol because of his lavish and outrageous loft parties, now lives in an upstate New York apple orchard.
But his predecessors' fates don't faze Massey. "They were all way too early for broadband adaptation," he says. "The technology stunk, and you had to view their media on a postage-stamp-sized screen; it was absolutely painful to watch. We waited to launch ManiaTV! until twenty million households had broadband access in the home, and we're using a sixty-year-old proven business model of television and selling commercials.... I think [the On Demand concept of] sending Internet through your TV is counterintuitive. We should be using the Internet as a pipeline to deliver live media and entertainment.
"Our vision has finally all come together," he adds. "If it wasn't us, someone else would have eventually been able to get here, so we just have to run that much faster."
And he's already run that race once. Massey launched P.O.V. magazine in 1995, winning Adweek's prestigious Start Up of the Year award, only to see his smart-lad mag killed off by none other than Maxim. But, he says, "entrepreneurship can be like a disease. You can always leave the office, but the office never leaves you."
Now that office is back home in Denver. "I had a great run out East," says Massey, who also worked with Tim Forbes after graduating from Boston College. "But I grew up with sunsets over the Rockies, which are different than sunsets over the Hudson."
Not that he gets to see many of them. Most of his time is now spent inside a warehouse at 38th Avenue and Steele Street, where the ManiaTV! set is housed. The central-command station of the manic kingdom is crammed into an old yellow school bus, where Massey and his staff perpetually stare into the eerie chartreuse glow of the station's monitors. "We could have built a control room, but it would have cost a fortune and been boring as hell," Massey explains. "So I decided we needed a school bus."
It certainly gives it that alternative, uber-hip edge: The behemoth soundstage's pickups broadcast everything from the crack of a cyber-jockey bustin' an ollie on his board to the clack of a straight shot on the pool table behind camera one. "This is a working studio," Massey says. "These guys are working really hard for less money than they're worth, and we need them to be comfortable. They see the horizon; they can all see what is going to happen.
"You hear about Ted Turner and his crew working out of that old mansion they had when they launched CNN," he continues. "The sets were falling down and the interns were basically running the place -- and now they're all bigwigs somewhere in broadcasting."
ManiaTV!'s editors and producers hope to climb that chain with their mix of cutting-edge music videos twisted together with a variety of Gen X-flavored programs, including such titles as Politix, Pimpin' Personals and Hottie of the Day. Wake the Hell Up, for example, is a morning show that blasts loud music and crazed news features à la Live with Regis and Kelly -- if either one of the quarrelsome duo knew how to shake a tailfeather. Viewers are also encouraged to send in their cell-phone videos or animated shorts, such as that of a recently submitted and sardonic '88 Dodge Aries commercial that promises "not only performance, but luxury." The hilarious comedy sketch about potential behind-the-scenes mishaps titled Outtakes of the Christ is already becoming a cult-like classic on Mania's screens.
Massey has secured a solid sponsorship base, receiving the thumbs up from advertisers like Dell, Oakley, Skateboarder.com and Norelco. He has also stacked the boardroom with Carat CEO David Verklin, Softbank's Mike Perlis, director John Singleton and King of Queens' David Litt. But besides the cable snaking through the wall, is there really any difference between MTV and ManiaTV!? "The first difference," Massey says with a laugh, "is that we play music videos."
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MTV shows roughly 200 videos a year, he says, while Mania has already acquired 5,000 videos for its digital library. And, yes, he realizes that MTV or AOL/Time Warner could release their own versions of Internet television and try to trump the competition, but Massey has no fear.
"We will not be out-Maximed again, because now we have a bus to run over our competition," he quips. "Will the big boys figure it out? Maybe, but we'll be one step ahead of them. This is a Herculean effort. I have never done anything like this before, but I had never launched a magazine, either. It's against all the mainstream thought, and we think that's a strength. We're just going to continue to do it our own innovative way, like we do everything else.
"Part of the mania is that the viewers control the network," says Massey. "With our lean, mean crew and ever-expanding programming, this is the sexiest thing happening on TV -- and the Internet."