Chris Hansen is going back into the predator-catching business, but this time he’s asking his fans to help him.
The veteran network news correspondent, known for the “Dateline NBC” investigative series “To Catch a Predator,” is turning to crowd funding to support a new hidden-camera operation to capture men who use the Internet to find underage sex partners. The results will become the basis for a new series, “Hansen vs. Predator.”
Starting Wednesday, people can contribute to a campaign that Hansen is launching on Kickstarter, the Internet crowd-funding site that enables people to contribute money to a venture or cause they are passionate about. Hansen’s fundraising target is around $400,000.
Crowd funding — now a $5 billion-plus industry — has been used to finance movies, new tech businesses and other projects. But Hansen is the first high-profile TV news personality to use the mechanism to revive a franchise for which he’s already well-known.
“There is a pent-up demand from viewers for another investigation,” Hansen said in a recent interview from his Connecticut home. “And from a technology standpoint, the landscape has really changed since we did the last one.”
The new series will be presented on a digital Web channel before it’s sold to a TV outlet.
Hansen had shopped the new series around to different TV networks and syndicators, but found that “the best way to do this is shoot the next investigation and show that we have it.” It also gives him creative control and ownership of the program, something he would not have if he produced it through a news organization.
“What it really illustrates is that there are multiple paths to funding, production and even distribution today, compared to the hammerlock that legacy media once applied and enjoyed,” said Andrew Heyward, a former CBS News president who now advises companies on digital strategy.
Hansen isn’t going it alone in the project. He’s getting an assist from his agency, William Morris Endeavor, which now has an entire unit dedicated to helping talent develop strategies and manage their crowd-funding campaigns.
“We’re trying to help our clients connect with fans who want to help bring their projects to life,” said Erin Erenberg, director of crowd funding at William Morris Endeavor.
The agency helped launched campaigns that secured funding for documentaries made by Steve Buscemi and Ricki Lake. It was also involved in the funding campaign for “TableTop,” the Web video series in which Wil Wheaton plays board games with celebrity guests.
Erenberg believes that “Predator” fits the profile of established pop culture fixtures that become crowd-funded projects, such as the TV series “Veronica Mars” which was turned into a crowd-funded feature film. The project has to generate enough passion from fans that they are willing to make a financial contribution to see it return in some form.
“There has definitely been a trend of bringing back content that people feel has gone too soon,” Erenberg said.
“To Catch a Predator” became a hit franchise for NBC News when it started airing on “Dateline NBC” in 2004.
NBC News conducted the investigations with the help of a civilian watchdog group called Perverted-Justice and local police in the towns and cities where the stings were set up.
Through online chat rooms, potential predators were lured by decoys to the sting locations. Hansen confronted the suspects with his signature line, “Have a seat.” After a chat with the correspondent, the suspects were arrested by local police, while a camera crew captured it all.
Hansen did his last investigation in December 2008. But “Predator” remained a viewer favorite for years afterward in repeats on cable channel MSNBC. It was also sold by NBC to broadcasters around the world, taking in well over $10 million. Nearly every segment can still be found online via YouTube.
Hansen’s predator-busting persona was immortalized on “The Simpsons” and “South Park.” His name even came up in a gag delivered by comic Kevin Hart during the recent roast of Justin Bieber on Comedy Central.
People he meets still ask him when they will see a new edition of “Predator.” “Most of them don’t even know that I’m no longer with NBC News,” said Hansen, who left the network in 2013.
But Hansen said there are reasons other than viewer demand to revive the “Predator” concept.
“When we did it before, there were chat rooms on AOL and Yahoo,” he said. “Now there are 22 ways to communicate online.”
The team that Hansen used for “To Catch a Predator” was at the forefront of Internet safety. Del Harvey, one of the young women who posed as a decoy in the sting operations, oversees online security at Twitter.
Hansen already has a sponsor for the new series, business and legal research provider LexisNexis.
Contributors to the “Hansen vs. Predator” Kickstarter campaign will be offered the usual crowd-funding incentives such as a logo-emblazoned T-shirt, a coffee mug or an invitation for a private screening of “Hansen vs. Predator” with Hansen and his crew.
But true “Predator” aficionados are likely to want to shell out $150 for Hansen to provide an outgoing message for their voice mail.