Storyline: Children can watch cartoons starring Felix the Cat or The Simpsons on their computers by using the netTOONS CD-ROM and Big Top Internet TV. They can also share the cartoons that they have created using using Big Top’s Cartoon Toolbox Starring Felix the Cat or Simpsons Cartoon Studio.
Target Audience: Children five and up
Key Activities: Viewing, creating and exchanging moving cartoons
For all of its hype, the Internet still has a lot to prove. First-time users and non-techies expecting to discover a brave new world of wonder and information often find an unfriendly, slow and sometimes frustrating experience.
San Francisco-based Big Top Productions has developed software that may help change some of that.
At E3, it is unveiling netTOONS and Big Top Internet TV, which will allow users to watch cartoons on the Internet in real time. What’s more, for users of Big Top’s Cartoon Toolbox Starring Felix the Cat or Simpsons Cartoon Studio, Internet TV will showcase cartoons these same users have created and will allow them to download cartoons developed by others.
While netTOONS and Internet TV will not be available until this summer, children and adults have been able to create their own Felix cartoons since last April. And in June, Fox Interactive will be bringing out Simpsons Cartoon Studio, developed by Big Top.
Both CD-ROMs contain all of the tools necessary to create Saturday morning TV-quality cartoons, including backgrounds, props, sound effects, soundtracks and the ability to loop and edit. But to date, cartoon creators have only been able to share their cartoons with their family and friends. netTOONS and Internet TV will change all of that.
Users will submit their cartoons to Internet TV by uploading their sketches onto Big Top’s Web site (http://www.bigtop.com). To view their work and other submissions, they will open Internet TV by first connecting to the Internet via an Internet service provider, then clicking on the netTOONS icon on their screen. Internet TV will send instructions that activate the characters, backgrounds and other elements on the netTOONS CD-ROM to produce a moving image.
‘It’s a novel approach to solving the bandwidth limitations of the Internet,’ says Jim Myrick, executive vice president and company co-founder.
Internet TV is designed to look much like a conventional TV set. Users will be able to tune in to one of two ‘channels,’ either Felix the Cat or The Simpsons, showing cartoons in real time.
‘Everything else on the Internet isn’t in real time. Click on a button and absolutely nothing will happen until all of that information gets to your house. You’re never really sitting back and watching television on the Internet. You’re clicking, you’re waiting, you’re going to dinner, you’re coming back.
‘The fundamental novelty of our product is that you have the scenery and characters already at your house. I have a very efficient way to talk to you over the regular telephone. You don’t have to buy any special equipment. You don’t have to upgrade. You can stop the movie; you can pause it. You can look at multiple channels,’ says Myrick.
With netTOONS, users will only be able to watch the cartoons. If they want to become more actively involved, for a fee, they can unlock the built-in Cartoon Toolbox software on the CD-ROM by calling an 800 number on the CD-ROM to obtain an encryption code.
Of the people touched by any sort of media today, about 99 percent of them are consumers, says Myrick, with just one percent involved in the creation. ‘We’re asking the consumer to become more participatory in the process and also become content creators themselves.’
The implications of Big Top’s initiative are far-reaching. Grafting commercials into Internet TV is possible, and at its launch, it will include ads that run between cartoons. Users will be able to connect to an advertiser’s home page on the Internet simply by clicking on the ad while it’s playing. ‘This may be the only game in town to watch real commercials and real cartoons on the Internet for the next three to five years,’ says Myrick.
Myrick’s next step is to convince advertisers that this new technology will make the Internet a compelling advertising medium.
‘Right now [on the Internet], you have a slide show that’s slow, with a lot of text and someone’s logo at the bottom,’ he says. ‘That may or may not be an effective vehicle for advertising. Next to it, on a terminal with Big Top software running, are regular color cartoons and commercials. The difference is staggering.’
Big Top has been showcasing the software to over a dozen of the top advertising agencies, making believers out of both the techno-literate and techno-phobe. Myrick says that many people are equating this new technology to the early days of television, and that real time animation and live action on the Internet will change how we think about media and telecommunications.
Big Top is looking towards an old-style TV method-channel sponsorship-to entice advertisers to pay for programming so less cost is passed on to consumers.
‘We think that’s the critical component that’s been missing for CD-ROMs,’ he says, adding that many consumers neglect to realize that advertisers have made conventional television ‘free’ to viewers.
netTOONS and Big Top Internet TV are not just going to be aimed at children. The company is looking into other properties and has just signed a contract with Fox and Marvel Comics to develop five channels for several of Marvel’s licensed properties, including The Incredible Hulk.
Big Top and Fox are even looking into the idea of simulcasting an episode of The Simpsons, which Fox would produce for TV and Big Top would duplicate to air on Internet TV. Additionally, Big Top hopes to make available ‘public access’ channels, so artists and other creative types can submit their work and collaborate with other artists from around the world. Myrick calls it ‘The World Wide Stage.’
Myrick sees his company’s focus in the future as being that of a studio or an ad agency, developing more sophisticated software and making digital entertainment commercials. Big Top hopes to be up and running with up to 30 channels within the next year.
‘On the Internet, every 24 hours is like a month,’ says Myrick. ‘These cookies are just out of the oven, and Fox has already agreed to put the product (netTOONS) on every single CD-ROM they sell, making it free for the consumer, and to put it on the Internet.’
Despite all of the positive buzz the company has been receiving, Myrick is keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground. ‘Right now, we’re the only game in town where you can watch cartoons on the Internet. [But] it’s a tough business. A lot of it is out in front of us. I’ll be glad if I’m still here next year.’