The Family Guy’s Online Video

The latest online video news is that Google and Seth MacFarlane of “Family Guy” are teaming up to create Seth MacFarlane’s “Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy” and busily announcing it in the pages of The New York Times.

The show will be made up of 50 two-minute episodes starring a cast of characters MacFarlane will dream up. He’s billed it as “animated versions of the one-frame cartoons you might see in The New Yorker, only edgier.” And while it’s becoming less of a story each time a Hollywood star gets involved with the Internet, this particular initiative will at least provide excellent lessons on what works and what doesn’t, and quite possibly could change the game.

More than simply videos on the Internet, à la Funny or Die, “Cartoon Comedy” will feature the requisite mix of pre-roll, sponsorship, and — for a premium — some MacFarlane secret sauce in the guise of animated product integration. But the real excitement is that the show will be placed across the Internet via Google AdSense.

The bet is that the fan base is big enough that no matter where the content shows up — predominantly the Internet zones where young males congregate — it will be clicked on. And that click will result in the advertiser paying a fee to MacFarlane, Google, and the Web site, most likely in that order.

Some have questioned this strategy. John Battelle suggested that it was an old Hollywood model of shoving content at people as opposed to allowing people to come to it. His hypothesis is that by placing ads with AdSense, Google wasn’t truly acting as a publisher, and that only by working in partnership with sites could you find success with this kind of content play. But as his company has a vested interest in believing sites must be partners rather than simply destinations, this point of view isn’t that surprising.

But will “Cartoon Comedy” succeed?

First there’s the content. Two minutes of animated silliness is just about right for what has traditionally worked on the Internet. Then there’s the idea that if you push it out, people will click it. Here’s where history may guide us.

“Family Guy” was resurrected twice. It first aired in 1999 and was canceled in 2000. It came back in 2001 and was canceled again in 2002. Then, thanks to strong DVD sales and ratings of reruns on Adult Swim, the show was brought back in 2005. It was the first show to be canceled twice and returned twice, and has found tremendous success the third time around.

Google, and any advertiser that signs up, are relying on MacFarlane’s rabid fan base. The fans’ history of backing him and enjoying the power of their fandom smacks of the “we showed them” school, and “Cartoon Comedy” falls directly in line with this mentality.

With his reported $100 million contract from Fox, MacFarlane can no longer be viewed as the underdog, but he can be viewed as a champion of a new kind of content distribution that gives the people what they want. And in the end, it’s about the content itself.

Meet Todd at ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 22, at Millennium Broadway in New York City.

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