Ask a Ninja unmasked

  • Ontario (CA) - Imagine being able to ask the Ninja from Ask a Ninja not just one question but a whole bunch of questions all at once! was given a chance to do just that at the 3rd Annual Podcasting and New Media Expo in Ontario, California this past weekend. Even better, we lived to tell about it.

    Creators of Ask a Ninja, Kent Nichols and Douglas Sarine (who plays the Ninja), graciously sat down with us to talk about the success of their show and how signing a lucrative advertising deal with Federated Media has affected their lives.   They even answered an age-old question among geeks, “who would win in a fight between pirates and ninjas”.   Here’s a hint, it’s not even a fair fight.

    The wildly-popular web show centers on a main character, The Ninja, who answers a unique question and offers "deadly-advice" in each episode.  The show has definitely come a long way since the first episode.    "It was bad, we shot it on our digital still camera and thought we need camera angles, very fancy.  It just was slow and we didn’t know the character yet," recalls Nichols.

    Thanks to a newly-signed advertising deal with Federated Media, Ask a Ninja is now shot with higher-quality equipment and professionally edited. As Nichols said, "We use a Sony HC1 camera and record to tape backup and also directly into Final Cut Pro.”

    For a show that seems incredibly simple (The Ninja stands in front of a camera and answers a question for 2-3 minutes), the creators have generated an amazing amount of income. For example, Ask a Ninja's deal with Federated Media Publishing allows the advertising company to sell ads for the show and the best part - Nichols and Sarine collect 50% of all revenue generated by the advertising which is guaranteed to be in the low seven-figures.  During the Podcast Expo’s Q & A session earlier in the day, Sarine joked that his new found wealth has allowed him to, “Pay cash for my ramen.”

    In recent episodes, The Ninja can be seen plugging and suggesting that viewers go to that site. But are fans turned off by the advertising? Does it make The Ninja a sell-out? We strive and we work really hard to make the advertising not annoying,” explains Nichols adding that they viewers like the bonus questions that are thrown in at the end of the show, after the ads appear.

    As for show ideas, Ask a Ninja is inspired by real questions from the real fans. The show has a Gmail account where fans can email questions to The Ninja. But out of the hundred or so questions they receive each day, how do Nichols and Sarine pick which questions to answer and turn into an episode? Nichols explains, "We aren’t going to answer a Chuck Norris question, until we talk to Chuck Norris, that’s our bar.”  Sarine chimed in by saying unique questions are picked because, “they make us laugh or we see a really fun left turn to take.”

    But out of all the funny questions, the pair also get some strange and even illegal questions.  Nichols told us that some viewers have even asked “creepy” questions like “How do I kill my mom?”  Sarine joked, “That’s a CNN story waiting to happen.”

    With an impressive viewership that includes 2.7 million downloads from the main website and over 1 million downloads from iTunes (not to mention the DVD sales), the show won't have a shortage of episode ideas anytime soon. But why ninjas, why not pirates? "Look at what pirates are … they are poorly educated, have horrible hygiene and they have self-inflicted handicaps,” said Sarine.

    But while Nichols and Sarine pity pirates, the pair are thinking about making a show called, “Ask a Pirate”.  They are also exploring other genres like Ask a Zombie, Ask a Robot and Ask a Viking.  They are also finishing up their “Ninja Handbook” which is a book that spoofs the Boy Scouts of America manual.

    Despite their success and substantially increased income, Nichols and Sarine have kept life simple. They are still producing the show in Nichols’ West Hollywood apartment with a green-painted wall and fluorescent lights and they still keep the same friends. Although later on, Sarine expressed interest in moving to the beach, perhaps Venice, and setting up a studio down there and expanding their staff. Aside from that, Nichols said life is fairly normal, “It really hasn’t changed.  People just know about us now and we’re famous on the web, but nothing happens every day.

    And to answer one of our biggest curiosities, who would win in a fight between pirates and ninjas? You’ll just have to check out our video to find out