Are you ready for your 15 minutes of fame? Innovative internet television services, the increased sharing of user-generated content over online social networks and an expanding broadband user base are helping open the doors to filmmaking for regular Joes and Janes, giving them a taste of the glitz and glamour previously reserved for the Wong Kar-wais and Martin Scorseses of the world. European internet firm Babelgum, which operates an interactive Web TV portal ( www.babelgum.com ), is showcasing original short films through its eponymous online movie festival. To add glitter to the digital competition, winners will each receive Euro20,000 (HK$244,200) at an awards ceremony on the sidelines of the 61st Cannes Film Festival, in France, on May 20. American filmmaker Spike Lee, who heads Babelgum's jury, expects viewers to be impressed by what they find. 'The standard of the entries we've received has been outstanding,' says Lee. 'It just goes to show there is a wealth of talent out there that wouldn't usually get recognition or exposure if it wasn't for festivals such as this. It really does represent a new era in filmmaking and puts the filmmaker in more control of getting their productions seen.' Submissions made to the online festival last year included entries from the mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines and New Zealand. '[This year] films have been submitted from 86 countries. We've had more than 1,000 submissions, 200 of them from film students - that means one-fifth of submissions are from film students, which is great,' says Lee, who is also the artistic director of the graduate division of the Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. To view Babelgum content, free software must be downloaded from the site. Babelgum users, which currently number about 60,000, are encouraged to vote for their favourite entries. The highest-rated films will then be screened for deliberation by the festival jury, who will make awards in seven categories. Valerio Zingarelli, chief executive at Babelgum, says the online festival is contributing to an industry shift towards the small screen. 'Films are now being made primarily for consumption online or on other smaller screen devices,' he says, noting that 60 per cent of entries received by Babelgum are produced specifically for the small screen. 'This supports the realisation that to be successful, filmmakers need to go where their potential audience is.' Some highlights among the entries are: a comedy about a man determined to follow the advice from fortune cookies; a heartbreaking account of two immigrant brothers' first weeks in England; a short drama set in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Beirut, Lebanon; and an animated short, in the style of a 1940s public service announcement, that imagines how zombies would fit into society. Founded in 2005, Babelgum is wholly owned and funded by Italian media entrepreneur Silvio Scaglia but faces similarly well-financed competitors focused on expansion. Prominent among them are Joost - created by Skype founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, and partly funded by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing - and BesTV, the mainland's largest internet television service provider, which is jointly run by Shanghai Media Group and China Telecom. Where Babelgum differs is that it relies on content created by users. And, occasionally, a big name. 'We partnered with Mr Lee to make his short film Jesus Children of America  exclusively available online on Babelgum and since then we've enjoyed a relationship with him,' says Zingarelli. Says Lee: 'I was all for it because I've always been about promoting young talent ... For the past 10 years I've been professor at NYU graduate film school and I'm also artistic director of the film school, so I know what students go through and how frustrating it can be to make a very good film and it not be seen.' Elliot Grove, founder of the Raindance Film Festival in Britain, says filmmaking is entering an exciting era. 'Everyone is talking about IPTV [internet protocol television]. Now is the time for film festivals to get a strategy together and maximise the value of this brand-new delivery medium.' But some filmmakers are skittish, worrying that widespread digital availability will damage the value of their movies in the entertainment marketplace. Julian Lee Chi-chiu, associate professor at the School of Creative Media at the City University of Hong Kong, urges his students to proceed with caution. 'There are numerous film festivals around the world, some are better than others. Filmmakers must also consider the credentials of websites because once they upload their content, they cannot take it back.' Aspiring filmmakers are also being offered platforms by a number of entertainment industry insiders. Last month, MTV and Mark Burnett Productions - creator of the hit reality shows Survivor and The Apprentice - launched the 2008 MTV Movie Spoof Contest. It is inviting submissions of original movie shorts parodying scenes from films over the past year to content-sharing sites. A winner from each partner site will move on to the final round, which will take place on May 19 at www.movieawards.mtv.com , when viewers will vote for a winner. The creators behind the shorts with the most votes will attend June's MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles, in the US, and one will be presented with the Golden Popcorn award. Ears XXI, a Hollywood media studio co-founded by producer Christopher Coppola, will this month launch phase three of The Neverending Movie. Participants from around the world will be asked to shoot a four-minute film using digital puppets representing Coppola, which can be downloaded from www.theneverendingmovie.com . The Neverending crew will add music and Coppola's voice to the submitted pieces. The final film will be uploaded onto the website and added to the previous episode. The reward for the filmmakers, apparently, will be artistic fulfilment. Lee sees benefits for consumers in the online model too. 'When the movie opens you have a choice to see it in the theatre or, for a certain fee, you can see the film and download it into your house the same day. This stuff is wide open to possibilities.' Over the past few years, companies such as Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Wal-Mart have been offering consumers the ability to download TV programmes and movies to own or rent. In Japan last September, telecommunications network operator KDDI employed its high-speed broadband network to offer a first-of-its-kind service that enables consumers to download a full two-hour, encrypted movie from the internet and burn it directly to a DVD disc in as little as 11 minutes. But consulting and market-analysis firm Forrester Research says paid-for video downloads remain a niche for media junkies. If that continues, the market is unlikely to grow fast enough to support the ambitions of all the companies involved. 'To attract mainstream viewers, media strategy executives must develop new business models and delivery mechanisms to make video downloading ad-supported and geek-free,' says Forrester Research principal analyst James McQuivey. Consumption of both advertising-supported and pay-broadband video is anticipated to grow strongly over the next few years, according to market-intelligence service ABI Research. It says the growing reach of new distribution models will expand the total base of internet video consumers from roughly 300 million last year to nearly 1 billion by 2012. Those estimates could prove to be conservative, as global broadband infrastructure continues to expand and encourages more consumers to adopt high-speed internet services. US research and consulting firm Strategy Analytics predicts there will be more than 1 billion broadband network users worldwide in the fourth quarter this year. With an eye to building new sources of revenue, IPTV service providers - Now TV in Hong Kong, for example - are expected to either compete against or partner online video content suppliers, such as Babelgum, Joost and YouTube. 'We've found that using internet video is a tremendous opportunity if it's tailored around the IPTV operator's local market,' says Len Feldman, director of IPTV analysis at Multimedia Research Group. IPTV service providers offer quality production capabilities to internet video sites such as YouTube. Despite his optimism over the online movie trade, Lee admits viewing movies over the internet on a desktop or laptop computer can be difficult, even for hard-core film buffs. 'Ten minutes, 15 minutes, I can do that. But [watch] a feature-length film online? I can't do it.'