Business

Bainbridge residents take a flyer on a Small Screen

Islander Colin Kimball is putting together a high-definition web experience under the name of Small Screen Network. -
Islander Colin Kimball is putting together a high-definition web experience under the name of Small Screen Network.
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Colin Kimball, Brian Dressler invest in the Internet’s promising future

Colin Kimball likes to take chances.

The Bainbridge Island native has to contain that impulse a bit these days because he’s got a family. But there’s no doubt he wants to turn his creativity into big bucks, which means he’s occasionally going to take a walk on the wild side.

He’s been working as a general contractor to pay the bills, primarily remodeling houses on the island. But his future is decidedly fastened to his creation, Small Screen Network, which produces original online video. The business is still very much in its infancy, as is the Internet’s promise as the primary purveyor of visual entertainment and information.

Kimball and his partner/investor, engineer Brian Dressler, launched the online video business a year ago with The Cocktail Spirit, a 48-part series that features cocktail expert Robert Hess and cinematographer Chris Mosio. Each episode is about five minutes long and focuses on Hess, who is a technical evangelist for Microsoft in his real life, showing the viewer how to make an Aviation Cocktail or any one of hundreds of drinks. Or Hess espousing about the value of using violette liqueur in a specific concoction.

Relying on the host’s expertise and his fastidious, sober approach to mixing a cocktail, most of the episodes were made over a long weekend at a studio bar in Hess’ home. The Cocktail Spirit, which is currently sponsored by Kegworks (a bar equipment business), also offers other alcohol-related videos such as The Liquid Muse and Tales of the Cocktail.

Kimball said the show is averaging around 20,000 viewers a month, which is on the low side of what’s needed to attract high-end sponsors and advertisers. But the selling point is that the viewers are often fixated members of the cocktail subculture and can’t get enough information about it. In other words, it’s click, click, click on advertisers’ brands and other sites pertaining to mixology.

Kimball and Dressler, who also grew up on the island and graduated from Bainbridge High, have scheduled several meetings this fall with potential sponsors, advertisers and investors, including a date with a Riedel Glassware representative in New York City. Kimball says preliminary discussions with the Austrian company have been promising.

Advertisers are beginning to realize the potential of niche online videos such as The Cocktail Spirit, Kimball said, because of the numbers of viewers who return to the sites multiple times and the relatively inexpensive buy-in when compared to a full-page, color magazine ad. Such an ad could cost as much as $50,000 when placed in a slick national publication that is often discarded after being seen only once by a reader.

“Twenty thousand viewers may not seem like a lot and we want to get up to 50,000, “ Kimball said, “but the viewers tend to be very passionate and curious about the content. If it is intelligent and attractive, then the audience keeps coming back because of their interest in the subject. They want more.”

Eventually, Kimball plans on offering videos that feature many interests, hoping to compete with companies such as ON Network, which posts videos on such subjects as comedy/pop culture, sports /gaming, food/drink and culture/living.

For now, however, the emphasis will be on food and drink because of the early success of The Cocktail Spirit and the need to keep expenses down as the business grows.

He has three different series pilots planned, including: a bar technique show featuring bartender Jamie Boudreau; a “liquid muse” travel show with Natalie Bovis-Nelsen shot in popular cocktail bars in Los Angeles, New York and other cities; and a cooking show.

“There are probably a dozen companies doing this now, some really big like Broadband Enterprise. And most of the big traditional and cable networks are beginning to repurpose their existing content and placing it online. But there’s room for us.”

Kimball, who spent a year in the Seattle Film Institute’s immersion program, believes online video “is quickly developing, getting better all the time,” he said. “Five years from now, you won’t be able to tell the difference between TV programming and online video.”

The focus is on youth because they tend to be mobile and want to be able to watch things on their computers or iPods. They also like the fact that online view is free compared to cable TV.

Hess, who knows more than just a little bit about the Internet, thinks Small Screen Network is headed in the right direction.

“They have a good idea because it’s an easy-to-consume model and their content is aimed at a niche audience,” he said. “They’re interested in high-quality content. They take it seriously and want to do it right. And they’re good guys. It’s my hobby, so I’ve really enjoyed doing it.”

He said that their ability to expand will depend on how they respond to the industry’s technical advances and keeping their business model current with the changes. You have to be nimble, he said, because it’s at the cutting-edge stage right now,

“It’s like when the transition occurred from radio to TV,” Hess said. Now it’s the Internet’s turn.

Kimball seems to know where he’s going, at least, as long as he’s open to having viewers’ interests show him the way.

He tells this story of coming across a site dedicated to people who are enthralled with straight-razor shaving and the collectability of the equipment.

“We could do a whole show on that stuff,” he said, his eyes coming alive. “They’re mostly men so maybe it could be about male hygiene and all that.”

Yes, a series on the male ego and men’s sartorial proclivity certainly might attract a maker of after-shave products.

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