‘Jackass 2.5’ Online-Only Release: Smart Stunt or Half-Assed?

Will movies be as successful as TV shows and videos have been in moving to the Web? Paramount Pictures is betting yes, with the forthcoming launch of what it claims will be the first studio-backed feature film to make its debut online.

Coming to the Web on Dec. 19, “Jackass 2.5” is an hour-long film — including original footage and unseen outtakes — based on “Jackass Number Two,” which was released to theaters in 2006.

With its latest move, Paramount is clearly fanning the flames of the digital entertainment revolution. However, using the Internet as a primary distribution channel for content like original television programming — much less feature-length films — is still in the experimental stages. The industry will be watching eagerly to see how “Jackass 2.5” fares.

Though there are no tried-and-true strategies for success, Paramount is following a path that has been successful in other campaigns. It is streaming “Jackass 2.5” for free, supporting the endeavor with 15- and 30-second commercials placed before and after the movie. The studio is also promoting the Web site,Jackassworld.com, which will have blogs, Web 2.0 tools, and archives of the cable series — and, no doubt, will provide another avenue for revenue generation.

Too Quirky?

Considering the uniqueness of the “Jackass” franchise, it may not carve a path that other content producers can follow.

“I think releasing movies online will be very different from releasing, specifically, ‘Jackass 2.5’ online — no matter what the advertising strategy is,” said Geoff Allen, chairman and founder of Anysteam.

“Jackass” has a fanatic fan base, which all but guarantees it will do well on the Web. “It canonized this whole genre, after all,” Allen told the E-Commerce Times.

Indeed, when he first heard it was being released, Mike Maney, an account rep at PageOne Public Relations, marked the date on his calendar right away — and he still plans to buy the DVD when it comes out.

“This is as much about fan base as it is about format,” Maney told the E-Commerce Times. “Like Howard Stern or Opie & Anthony, ‘Jackass’ has a loyal following that doesn’t care how they see or hear the content — only that they can get it, and it keeps coming.”

It’s not for everybody, of course. Jill Notini, a Washington, D.C.-based communications director, told the E-Commerce Times that she would happily sit through a two-hour movie online. “Whether I would sit through ‘Jackass 2.5’ online is another thing — probably not!”

Sean Muir, an account executive in New York, already watches virtually all TV streaming online, “and that often involves items for — at least — sittings lasting well over an hour. My only issue is I would never want to watch ‘Jackass 2.5.’ Now if they released ‘Superbad 2.5,’ I’d be all over that.”

Too Limited?

The dedicated “Jackass” fan base will have no problem going online to watch its next iteration, said Simeon Spearman, an analyst with the futurist research and consulting firm Social Technologies. That’s precisely where they prefer to get their fix.

“The film’s target audience is mainly composed of those who already watch videos online: young men who have grown up with the Internet and are mainly responsible for the success of online video to this point. It is a natural fit for ‘Jackass 2.5’ to be released in this fashion,” Spearman told the E-Commerce Times.

“However, I don’t think the studios should believe that if this film is successful online that films for older audiences less familiar with online video will see similar success,” he continued. “Surveys have shown that most consumers still prefer watching video on television sets than on their computers. Films catering to younger audiences will likely see more success under this distribution model.”

The issue as a bit more nuanced for Dennis “Da Menace” White, an actor and rap star, although he also sees a generational divide in viewing preferences. It’s all about how a person likes to watch movies and TV, he told the E-Commerce Times. “People don’t necessarily want to have to go to a theater to see the latest.”

White, who recently was featured in the movie “The Brave Ones” and Jay-Z’s music video “Roc Boys,” says the latter resulted in more recognition for him, precisely because it was often viewed online. Would he be willing to act in a movie designed for Internet release?

“Sure — actors are gluttons,” White said. “We want to be seen as much as possible.”

Too Long?

Of course, it may be that “Jackass 2.5” doesn’t make the splash its sponsors are hoping for. Bandwidth constraints and the “lean forward” mode in which most people consume online video have made the medium much more conducive to short-form content, Michael Boland, senior analyst with the Kelsey Group, told the E-Commerce Times.

“Other things — such as sports clips, YouTube bloopers and short comedies — are consumable at work and between other daily activities and have led to the ‘snack culture’ of digital consumption,” he pointed out. “The success of long-form content distribution online would ultimately require lots of other variables, such as moving online content to the television so people can watch movies on their couches, not propped up at their desks.”

Efforts to accomplish this — AppleTV, for example — have had trouble getting off the ground, Boland said.

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