Katalyst Teams up with Machinima Prime for ‘Prank Lab’ YouTube Show [INTERVIEW]

The Katalyst Network aka Ashton Kutcher’s entertainment production company that was responsible for “Punk’d,” has announced that they will be producing original shows for YouTube network Machinima. Notice the prolific use of k’s at the beginning of that sentence — it’s Ashton Kutcher’s fault. The first fruit of their partnership is a juicy little show called “Prank Lab,” a show that promises viewers extreme pranks and stunts along with a highly interactive experience. “Prank Lab’s” first 40 episodes will be exclusively available on Machinima Prime, Machinima’s premium content channel for YouTube. NMR had a chance to speak with Anthony Batt, the President of Katalyst and founder of Buzzmedia, about all the Machinima “Prank Lab” hubbub:

How did you guys at Katalyst decide to partner up with Machinima?

Anthony Batt: We just think Machinima is probably the biggest and best network in the world programmed for the young male audience. We’ve worked with experts in creative content and digital media, so it’s just kind of, you know, a match made in heaven.

Right. So the audiences line up well.

Yes, we sort of have big ambitions to have our own digital media channels, and we have our own channel called Thrash Lab, but that’s for a different audience. We’ve had 12 years of experience programming and sort of making pop culture for males doing “Punk’d” brand, but we’re not, you know, full of hubris. We knew that we needed to partner with the best, and the best is Machinima. You know what I mean?

Yes, absolutely. And so is this show going to cater to gamers in any way?

Well, it’s not about gaming. It’s supposed to be a kind of fun and humorous and aggressive sort of hidden camera prank kind of humor that I think gamers can appreciate

Right, and so how different is it going to be from “Punk’d”?

Well, Punk’d is a TV show, so you can’t really do anything with the audience. And Punk’d is focused on celebrity, and we’re really focused on our audience, so it’s really super servicing what our audience likes or wants, so we can instantly respond and be really playful with them. So the meanings are just so different, but with that said, it’s a hidden camera show, so we are taking that 12 years of experience really popularizing that and using all of our skills to make great programing.

What’s the average length for each episode going to be — do you know?

No. It really depends on sort of the prank itself, so we’re sort of shooting them and trying to find the best way of getting them. Sometimes they are really short, sometimes they kind of fail, sometimes they are really long, so they will probably be between 90 seconds and you know, 4 or 5 minute kind of range.

Aside from getting the audience involved, are there any other factors or changes that are going to make Prank Lab different from “Punk’d”? Obviously, for online content you need a specific kind of content in order for it to appeal to that specific demographic so are there any other tricks up your sleeve?

Well, I think there are, but I can’t really tell you.

That’s a good answer too. I like that.

So we have a lot of tricks up our sleeves that we can’t tell you about, but I think what you were trying to drive at is like, we’re pranking everyone; we’re not going after celebrities, but we’re going after a whole community, so we have a lot of stuff up our sleeves. What I really want to emphasize is that the mediums are different. They look incredibly similar; you have tell the same kind of stories. We may have to hit faster or a little harder, but if you really just listen and watch what the users are saying back to and doing, it’s so different than TV. So some of the stuff we want to do, we actually have to wait for the audience to kind of engage with us to respond back to. And as we do that, I would be happy to kind of come back to you and say, “This is what we did, and here’s why,” so you can kind of understand that, but I don’t want to sort of expose our direction just yet.

Do you plan to partner with any other YouTube networks in the future?

Yeah, absolutely we do. So like I said, I think that Katalyst the company, we see ourselves as expert programmers, and we at times can go direct on our own channel and our own sort of audience like what we did at Thrash Lab and other places. We are going to partner where we think that we can just — where they have already won the audience but they just need killer programming. We are in talks with a couple of other channels that have really big audiences where we can do programming for. We are sort of in the middle of negotiations, so I don’t want to out ourselves, but we’re definitely in talks. Just so you know, in the past we worked with brands, and so we are actively working with a company, Intel, and we’re doing a channel right now called “A Momentary Lapse” which is on YouTube. It’s under Intel; you can look at it on youtube.com/inteledge, and that’s a whole sort of like corporate programming. We did programs for brands; last year we did this crazy thing called Sparaah. We casted a young man and a young woman to kind of become celebrity spokesmodels for a brand and change their names and make them sort of do crazy stuff. This one guy, we got him to start dating Lindsay Lohan and do all this crazy, crazy stuff, so we can see that kind of stuff for brands as well, and so we are going to be doing more of that kind of stuff. So, we look at brands we do programming for and also kind of partners like Machinima and then direct for ourselves, like with our Fresh Lab Product.

What’s your general assessment of the whole YouTube industry? Do you think that this is the future for entertainment or do you feel that this is just a completely new medium and TV’s not going to die out, and it’s just another thing that you guys can dabble and hopefully flourish on?

My background is digital media, and the reason why I’m over at Katayst is actually Ashton hand-picked me to come run what will be the future of media, which is digital. I founded Buzzmedia in 2004 and built it all the way up till now in 2010. The reason that I came to partner with Ashton was to do this video, so the answer to your question is I think it’s the future of media, and absolutely, I think that YouTube, all the YouTube channels in some respect will either have massive success or will be sort of the first ring on the ladder for digital to be a dominant sort of programming interface to users will buy.

With all your experience at hand — some people tell us there is no formula for viral content, and some people say that they have the exact formula. What would your answer to that be?

No formula.

Even with all the things you’ve accomplished with Buzzmedia and everything?

I’ll say this. I’ll say that there are a couple things that I think help build a future. I think that two things that I’ve learned from all my stuff is you actually have to be consistent, meaning frequency is very, very, very important. I don’t think that’s a formula, but it’s sort of like a process too, if you know what I mean? And I think you need to really, really listen to your audience. So, a lot of people from traditional media, they just kind of sit from very luxurious seats and sort of broadcast. There is not as much listening per se to the audience. They just think that TV and film aren’t related to the the audience and then think that it’s hard. For films, it’s hard. For TV, they can have it, but they are on for six weeks and off. With digital, I think a way to kind of build toward success is frequency and being really good listeners. I don’t know if you buy it, but that’s what I’ve learned.

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