“Ask A Ninja“, one of the first viral video hits, is ancient in Web terms: It’s three years old. So we won’t call it an Internet sensation. But it does qualify as something even more elusive: It appears to be a real business.
Founders Kent Nichols and Douglas Sarine make healthy salaries from the series — about $78,000 a year, we figure. The fact that they’ve figured out how to do that makes them in demand at industry conferences and gives them a somewhat mythic status in the industry.
It wasn’t always this way: when the two started out in 2005, they were living a hand-to-mouth existence on the fringe of the entertainment business. Now they have professional management, steady income, and time to pursue outside film and TV jobs.
“Before, we were scraping by to pay rent. Doug didn’t have health insurance; it was starving-artist stuff. Now we’re upper middle-class, but it’s not the bling-bling lifestyle of a superstar,” Nichols says.
How do the economics work?
Nichols and Sarine produce between three and four “Ninja” videos a month. Each video costs about $6,600 to produce, and the videos receive 2 to 3 million video views a month. Nichols says Federated Media, which represents ad sales and sponsorships for “Ninja,” — Sponsors have included Microsoft’s Zune, Doritos, Electronic Arts, Sony and Warner Bros — brings in $25,000 in ad revenue per episode. The Ninja guys won’t disclose the ad splits, but Federated (which also works with SAI) generally keeps 40%.
From the Ninja’s $15,000 per-episode net, they pay their productions costs ($6,600), their agent, business manager and talent manager (30% of their net, or about $4,500), and keep the remaining $3,900. If they produce 40 a year, that’s $156,000.
This year they plan to re-tool the series, increasing the frequency and decreasing the length of each epsiode: They’ll be making five 30-second episodes (one question, one answer) per week.
But like just about everyone else in Web video, Nichols and Sabine don’t want to stay in Web video; they want a shot at “real” Hollywood. The two are writing an adaptation of 1978 cult monster flick “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” Nichols is set to direct.
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