Local, Video Trends Merge in Start-Up TurnHere

Would users choose to view a standalone Web short about a local restaurant or hardware store rather than sit through a 15-second pre-roll ad before viewing editorial content? That’s what startup TurnHere, a local travel video producer and distributor, is betting on.

TurnHere produces both commercial and purely editorial films about neighborhoods and towns, created by honest-to-goodness local filmmakers. The videos, available at TurnHere.com, are searchable by keyword, city, state, filmmaker or title. Though TurnHere isn’t set to officially launch until mid-May, it currently has 215 shorts available dedicated to neighborhoods, cities and businesses as far-flung as Seoul, South Korea; Elmer’s BBQ in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Rockaway Beach, NYC.

The opportunity for advertisers is simple: harness the creativity of local filmmakers to showcase your business in an entertaining, not intrusive, video story.

“It’s not like for all the ‘yups’ in the Marina….It’s Mission at its best.” That’s how the big man behind the counter at Lucca’s Ravioli describes the classic Italian fare he prepares at the San Francisco deli, as featured in a 45-second clip on TurnHere. Should advertisers find the opportunity attractive, more such films will appear on the site.

“We’re really combining travel and local into one experience,” commented Bradley Inman, founder and CEO of TurnHere. This isn’t Inman’s first entrepreneurial venture online. He’s founder and sole owner of real estate publisher Inman News and founded real estate site HomeGain, which was acquired by Classified Ventures in 2005.

Advertiser films on TurnHere are produced for anywhere from $1,500 for a 1-2 minute clip to $10,000 for a full feature. The commercial flicks are archived on the site according to neighborhood, and made available for distribution via advertiser Web sites, email and DVD. As TurnHere ramps up, the firm will be offering advertisers film production services at a discount, and three months of free streaming on its site.

The goal, explained Inman, is to tell narrative visual tales about travel destinations, characters and businesses through “local trustworthy narrators.”

“I’ve had a few people come in and say that they saw our link through them,” said Peter James, leather designer and owner of Fog City Leather, a retailer in San Francisco’s Marina District. When TurnHere was filming other spots in the neighborhood, they shot some footage of James and his shop. He hasn’t actually paid to be included in the short film, but he’s not ruling out doing so in the future. “I think to me it looks like the future in terms of not just using Web sites and Google searches to find products….In theory it should bring people to the area and bottom line relate to sales,” he concluded.

According to Inman, focus groups have expressed distaste for in-stream video ads, and would rather watch a story-driven film that’s dedicated to an advertiser. “Then they embrace the commercial,” he continued. “We think it’s about bringing a powerful conversion tool, which is Hollywood and emotion, to [create] transactions.”

For now, TurnHere’s focus is on the New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco markets, where there are plenty of filmmakers and broad Internet adoption. By launch time, Inman said the company will have available about 100 movies focusing on each of those three cities. Films centered on other locales will be rolled out this summer. TurnHere also hopes to attract national advertisers that are interested in reaching its targeted urban, offbeat, high-income demographic.

Being a content developer as much as it is a potential commercial creator, TurnHere has already been distributing its films through MSN Video, Google Video, Apple’s iTunes and Yahoo. MSN Video spotlighted a TurnHere film about the Hawaiian town of Hale’iwa in its lifestyles and travel sections, and also ran a film featuring a food fanatic touring NYC eateries. TurnHere split the revenue from the in-stream ads MSN ran before the films with the publisher. The company is in discussions with other potential syndication partners as well.

There’s also an obvious connection between the neighborhood-centric quality of TurnHere and another of Inman’s entrepreneurial efforts, Inman Stories, a division of his real estate news publishing firm, Inman News. Through a deal with Yahoo, visitors to portal’s Real Estate section can peruse what Inman calls “real estate porn,” i.e. films featuring high-end homes.

Though TurnHere is still in beta, Inman noted that its videos are getting a lot of attention through viral promotion. The company will also be doing search engine optimization, paid search advertising, PR and offline marketing in local markets to get the word out.

As for the future, could a link to a TurnHere commercial film from a mapped business address on Google Maps or a portal site be a possibility? “Absolutely,” affirms Inman.

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