Sunday, June 11, 2000


Upstarts move away when action gets heavy

        “Cincinnati,” Gary Zeidenstein didn't have to say, “is not the entertainment hub of the world.” He learned that as an independent filmmaker here, and he hasn't done badly.

        A 1988 graduate of the University of Cincinnati, he developed a children's show called Dooley, put it on PBS and sold it to Disney. He started a licensed-products company called Classic Impressions and sold that, too.

        And now he's learned it another way — as co-founder of a Web site for independent films. In April 1999, he and filmmaker Amine Bitar created a showcase for independent films called

        “We have thousands of great independent producers that nobody gets a chance to take a look at,” Mr. Zeidenstein said.

        Then around September, the phone started ringing. People wanted to invest in the company, people wanted to buy it. Microsoft called to say they love the site (AlwaysIF makes use of the Windows Media Player), and got behind the technology.

        From the beginning, Mr. Zeidenstein said, “Everybody said "Why are you doing this in Ohio?' I kept saying "Why not?' ... Entertainment is everywhere. We have films from all over the world.”

        Today, AlwaysIF is serious, preparing content for a broadband future. The site has nearly 700 independent films online. In May, films were viewed 300,000 times. It's commissioning TV series and full-length movies, even audio-only short stories. Six of the films first showcased on the site were picked up for distribution. The two-man staff is now up to nine — one a full-time Harvard MBA-certified chief executive officer. And there's $5 million in venture capital, with Yahoo! itself one of the believers.

        And there's also a new address — San Francisco. The founders packed it up and moved it to the Bay Area in April.

        “We were able to do a lot of it while we were in Cincinnati,” Mr. Zeidenstein said, but “we thought we had to come out here because the (venture capital) money was here, and we're in the entertainment hub now.” It's also the new CEO's home, and it was easier to move the company there than move him here.

        What this shows is that while much about Cincinnati's New Economy future is possible, some things just won't be. AlwaysIF isn't the only entertainment industry Internet start-up with roots here and employees elsewhere.

        David Wheeler, an attorney and co-founder of Main Street Ventures, moved his family to Los Angeles in May to be No.2 at, which is developing an online marketplace for television programming.

        The development work on the site is being done is Cincinnati; the servers are on Fourth Street. But in the entertainment industry, it's going to take handshakes and contacts to make Tivix the standard. Most of that business is in Hollywood, most of the rest is New York. So while the Internet — in theory — means you can do business anywhere, it still comes down to whom you know.

        Mr. Wheeler said he told classes at UC and Xavier that Cincinnati has the money and the resources to support just about any business. If you leave, “you should leave for purely business reasons,” he said, and that's what he did.

        If there's any local benefit, it's the benediction of the development community.

        “For us it just opens people's minds that a Cincinnati company is doing work that's head-to-head with people on the coast,” said Ed Estes of Over-the-Rhine's Digital Bang, which did development work on both sites.

        E-mail John at or call 768-8377. Check out his New Economy page at


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