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Board backs loan to web comedy startup

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Evanston's Economic Development Committee voted unanimously Wednesday night to recommend the city provide a $36,850 loan to a startup business that wants to produce Internet-based comedy programming from a building on the city's west side.

Winnetka-based Long Tail Media Group has a pilot website for its planned Friday Nite Bytes program and says it needs the city money to convert a vacant unit at Strange Lofts at Church Street and Darrow Avenue into a production studio and performance space.

Robert Cornog, the CEO of Long Tail Media, says the company plans to provide internships for students at Evanston Township High School and that it will hire eight to 10 full-time-equivalent employees to work at the new studio facility.

Cornog says the company's programming is designed to appeal to what he calls "screenagers" — teens through young adults who've grown up in an online world.

He describes the program as "Saturday Night Live on the web for kids," and adds that the site is designed to build a community that would see viewers submitting their own comedy ideas for production on the show.

He says he hopes to fund the operation through advertising that would be embedded into the shows' content. First year startup costs for the business are estimated at about $750,000, of which less than a third has been raised so far.

He said 25 to 30 million teens spend more than an hour online each day and the business can be successful if it reaches an audience of around 250,000. The web analytics service Compete.com says the pilot site drew less than 600 visitors last month. 

The proposed loan, which requires City Council approval, would call for monthly interest-free payments designed to amortize half the loan's cost over a five year period, with the rest of the loan to be forgiven after five years if the company meets certain performance standards.

Funds for the loan would come from the city's business attraction and expansion account, which is budgeted at $500,000 for the year.

Cornog said he's seeking approval for tax credit support from the Illinois film board and under the state program's rules he can't sign a lease for the Strange Loft space until the tax credits are approved.

He says he has also been talking to officials in Kenosha, Wisc., about locating the business there, but would rather be in Evanston because of its easy mass transit access for performers and other talent living in Chicago.

Related link

Long Tail Media proposal (.pdf from city website)

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