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Dec 05

Casting Networks UK – should I sign up?

Just what is Casting Networks, and do you need to bother to sign up to yet another online casting tool?

casting networks

Casting Networks logo

It’s been a decade since casting went online in earnest, and I’m researching a piece at the moment about how things might change in the next few years, and whether any company could mount a serious challenge to the dominance of Spotlight.

Of course, I’ve been looking at established sites like Casting Call Pro, as well as newer efforts such as StarNow and The Page, but I also met with the folks at Casting Networks Inc. a few weeks back to learn about their approach.

CNI is a well-established US casting software provider which operate across the States and claims a 90% share of the LA casting market.  I haven’t yet interviewed US casting directors for purposes of verification, so it’s probably best treat figures like that with a small pinch of salt, but the tour of their software certainly struck me.

The functionality – and the fresh feel – of CNI’s product is impressive , and should give the current main players, Spotlight and CCP, at least a pause for thought. And with a growing staffed office in London, this isn’t a speculative punt at entering the UK casting market – obviously CNI means business. To be clear, CNI isn’t piping casting from the States over here, it is entering the UK to compete with our homegrown providers.

What it does

Like Spotlight‘s Link or CCP‘s software, CNI offers casting professionals a means to distribute breakdowns and receive submissions, but – at least as far as I could see it – where CNI’s offering is strikingly different is in the suite of tools it offers casting directors for streamlining, simplifying and facilitating the subsequent casting process: actor check in via-iPad, integration of audition video-recording into online casting tools, software for handling the scheduling and arranging of auditions, just to list a few examples.

In which case, though appearances at events like Actor Expo show the company is courting agents and actors,  you feel that their major marketing battle will be fought in persuading casting directors to sign up to the service.

Casting Networks cv

Casting Networks cv

And the commercials casting-focused list of casting directors (including Des Hamilton and Candid Casting) currently signed up, suggest CNI is initially proving most compelling for casters with a regular, heavy audition schedule. The next 12 months should reveal if and how the company can take broader bites out of the market, and that’s one area my piece will be touching on.

Do I need to sign up?

So, for actors, the main question right now is “Am I missing out by not signing up?

To test this out, as well as accepting CNI’s guided tour, I also logged in through a friend’s profile to check out the feel, functionality and content of CNI’s actor profiles and generally had a good play around.

Feel

  • Fresh and modern, more so than either CCP or Spotlight – scarcely a cinching factor, but it does look good.
  • A few Americanisms here and there, but generally not too Yankee.

Content

  • Sections for statistics, skills, agent contact details, credits and multimedia (photos, video and audio). Nothing earth-shattering, but well laid out.

Functionality

  • Nice share features, allowing you to email a link to your CV to anyone you like. Certainly easier than the Spotlight view pin…
  • Excellent multi-media centre which opens as a pop out from the cv, allowing you to upload photos, a showreel or video clips, and a voicereel or audio clips. Pleasingly, the upload function includes a simple clipping tool, so you can edit a clip down. This is a better tool than anything currently available elsewhere.
  • Attach clip to credit function – a really neat feature allows you to attach a video clip to a specific credit, which can then be viewed direct from the hyperlinked CV credit. ie. click straight from your CV entry for Holby City  to a clip of your suffering some horrendous episode-defining injury.
  • You need to be with an agent to have access to the full range of paid work, otherwise you’ll only be able to see what you company calls its ‘Casting Billboard’ – essentially low or unpaid work.
  • To register as an actor with an agent, you need to secure your agent-specific code, which means your agent in turn needs to create a profile. It’s both a way to ensure you don’t falsely claim to be repped by United Artists, and a rather fine way to ensure your agent gets round to signing up…
  • Ability to share one CV and associated multimedia content across multiple agents e.g. voice, commercials, modelling and acting agents.
  • A raft of associated functionality that will come more significantly into play at the point when a critical mass of casting directors and agents are signed up e.g. sides delivered through the system, check-in at audition and etc…

Other factors at play

  • Cost – profiles are currently free, and any media added during this initial period will remain attached to the CV in perpetuity. When charges do begin, basic profiles will remain free, with small monthly payments for access to paid jobs, and for adding additional video, audio or photo clips. As with CCP, payments can be suspended if you’re away on a job. Pricing has not been released, but for context the company says an average US user might spend between $120 and $200 per year, which equates to CCP or Spotlight fees.
  • Breadth of casting opportunities – these are some of the casters currently signed up, so it’s clear that you aren’t yet going to be missing out on RSC castings if you don’t have a CNI profile. But with prominent film casting directors like Jeremy Zimmerman, the Hubbards, Sasha Robertson and Nina Gold signing up recently, the argument could easily become more compelling very quickly.
Michael Wharley Photography

Michael Wharley Photography

Conclusion

  • CNI isn’t yet an unavoidable place to be, but given the undoubted quality of its software, it’ll be interesting to see what sort of gains it can make in the UK casting market
  • In terms of an approach, CNI is more Spotlight than CCP – tools to facilitate casting professionals jobs, that also help the actor, rather than a more actor-centric suite of tools.
  • For an actor, the sophistication of  CNI’s online CVs and the quality of the tools offered, not to mention the fact that basic profiles are free, make signing up a low-risk, high-gain choice. If you’re going to be anywhere beyond CCP and Spotlight, this is probably the place.

Look out for my full feature  on the online casting environment in a few weeks. Any comments about the experience of using the CNI software would be very welcome!

MW
5/12/2011

7 comments

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  1. Janie

    I have doubts about this website and ask you to read Casting Networks Inc Reviews. It all seems too good to be and usually that means that is !
    Allowing for the fact of the ‘free registration’ which is not 100% free, when you look on the site everything you need from them is an extra £5 per month soon adding up to hundreds per year for little more service than Spotlight includes in their once only per anum feew
    They have been reported in USA as being guilty of scams and I leave it to your judgement as to what they are doing here.
    I would love to be proved wrong on this topic but at my great age(!) I’ve seen it all before and suggest that nobody parts with any money at all until they have seen cast iron evidence from casting directors that they actually use this tool.

    \yours sincerely,

    A fellow actor!

    1. MW

      Thanks for the post Janie. There’s a lot of assumption and innuendo without base in your post though. Do please remember that I’m not wholeheartedly advocating the service (now over a year old in the UK and used by a substantial number of UK casting directors), merely assessing it as a more credible alternative to Spotlight than many the scurrilous sites making many out of vulnerable actors. I’ve done a lot of searching for the negative reviews you mention. There are some, but not a lot, and I’m not convinced how reliable they are. I’m sure you would find people equally happy to complain about industry stalwarts like CCP and Spotlight. I’m interviewing the heads of all major casting providers soon, so it’ll be a good chance for them to put their views in their words.

  2. Sam

    I have to agree with Janie,

    Its now ten months since her post and I and a couple of my acting friends have been using the casting networks service for a while.

    Here are the facts we have found out:

    1. We can’t find a single genuine checkable ‘I got a job via casting networks’ testimonial..ie proof!

    2. There are lots of lower paid jobs appearing….we dont want to pay to get these jobs(:

    3. The jobs are mainly for tv ads which are well paid but only need a small number of actors/extras…

    so you have a very low chance of getting chosen. For example film/tv work offers more opportunities.

    4. The software may be great for casting directors but they do not actually pay anything!……who is the client..

    …us or them?

    5. There is not any personal service at all…a computer/software system does not make for a personal service.

    6. Lots of these jobs can be found on the casting directors own websites!

    So really unless you get one of the high profile tv advert jobs it is not looking good(:

    Best wishes x

    1. MW

      Thanks for the post Sam – if you have a read of a recent comparison piece on the casting sites that I wrote for the new edition of Fourthwall magazine, you’ll see I raise a number of these points as problems with the service now it has been around for a while. There’s no doubt it has struggled to get casting directors outside commercials or dance castings to sign up, though undoubtedly jobs have been earned by actors through the service. I think some of your other comments are probably true to almost every casting service. For example, Low paid and no paid jobs are distributed by almost every casting site, despite being undesirable (actually even Spotlight has some no-pay now). And who is the client? Actors. The commercial model of almost every single casting service since the move online has become income generated from actors not casting professionals. Should you be getting better service and treatment across the board. Yes. And on the basis of nearly 2 years operation, is it worth the paid membership for CNI? probably not right now. I’ve got a piece on the future of casting sites in the Stage next month so look out for that. Thanks, Michael

  3. Sam

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for the reply:)

    Can’t wait for your next article/blog

    Sam x

  4. LORD

    Do not sign up to Casting Networks. I have worked in casting for 15 years, and I have worked for just about every casting director in the UK in that time. Reputable Casting Directors use Spotlight and Casting UK. Actors who are serious about their career use Spotlight. The Casting Networks software is fantastic. It makes filming a commercial and getting it to the ad agencies or production companies simple and fun. It is easy to record the auditions, take a still shot, organise all the talent and upload it to the Casting Networks website – and this is all we need in the UK. Unfortunately, with Casting Networks there is a lot of backstage nonsense that we do not need. It is trying to challenge Spotlight, which just confuses actors, and it has a number of draconian methods for controlling which casting directors and casting studios can use their software, because Casting Networks are trying to sign up actors to their database. The bottom line is, and this is a message to Casting Networks – we love your video capture, organisation and upload software, but we are not signing up to your database. Please sell us your casting software and let Spotlight deal with the talent.

    1. MW

      Thanks for taking the time to post Simon, and it’s reat to hear from a casting professional’s perspective, though if you have messages for CNI, probably best tell them direct, rather than on my blog! Of course, this piece was written two years ago when the service had just launched here, so some of the concerns you’re raising I’ve personally addressed in other pieces elsewhere since. CNI’s failure to get a good flow of quality castings through their service is a massive disincentive to actors to sign up, though I’m not sure they can be blamed for wanting to challenge Spotlight or control usage of their software. Perhaps we could even see them licensing the software to Spotlight in the UK? It certainly could do with a better system than the Link, right..

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