The result: A recent contest built around Showtime’s “The L Word” attracted Saks Fifth Avenue, LendingTree, W Las Vegas and Love & Pride jewelry, in addition to hundreds of thousands of fans. Future projects will include Pepsi-Cola, among other marketers.
As most marketers try to target the average consumer of entertainment with their marketing messages, a company called FanLib is betting that some advertisers could benefit much more by connecting with fans.
|Saks got to cozy up to the 'L Word' and its loyal fan base by being a sponsor of FanLib's script-writing contest.
Make that superfans.
Fan fiction -- in the form of unsolicited scripts or more traditional storytelling -- has proliferated across the Internet for years. It features characters from comic books, movies, TV shows and video games -- including Harry Potter, Superman, the X-Men, Lara Croft, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the cast of “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and even “The O.C.,” for example -- in situations ranging from the tame to the pornographic.
The quality of the writing, of course, varies. But whether the writing’s any good isn’t the point, FanLib’s creators say. Connecting with fans is.
FanLib, which is a division of entertainment-technology and marketing-solutions company My2Centences, isn’t trying to aggregate all of the fan fiction that can be found on the Internet. Sites like fanfiction.net and godawful.net already do that. Instead, the company is offering up its own patent-pending technology as a way for film studios or TV networks to create an online community for fans to interact with their counterparts, as well as Hollywood’s creative community.
“It’s designed specifically to empower the consumer in a collaborative process,” said FanLib co-founder David B. Williams, who co-developed the FanLib technology and serves as the company’s senior VP-product development. That includes an online voting system that can handle hundreds of content submissions and gives hundreds of thousands of voters the chance to evaluate them fairly. In some cases, FanLib will create an entirely new online destination for its content partner to aggregate submissions and fans.
Showtime Networks is the first to take FanLib up on its offer. The Viacom-owned pay-cable channel launched a contest around its drama “The L Word” in February that gives fans the chance to contribute to a future episode of the show by writing and posting scenes to LwordFanisode.com. Participants were given "scene missions" provided by a member of the official “L Word” writing team. The scenes that received the most online votes will be assembled and turned into one script that may eventually be produced. The contest ends March 31.
“This kind of event is the ultimate gift to the fans,” Mr. Williams said. “They’re expressing themselves online with or without this event. We provided a way to harness their creative energy.”
Here’s where the advertisers come in: Saks Fifth Avenue, LendingTree, the W Las Vegas and Love & Pride jewelry served as the contest’s sponsors. Fox Searchlight also came in to promote its romantic comedy “Imagine Me & You” during the run of the event. Sponsors were featured on the contest’s Web pages through banner ads and were given the chance to connect with participants through a database of registered users that collected ZIP codes and gender, age and economic backgrounds. They also provided prizes to winners, including shopping sprees at saks.com, totaling $5,000, and merchandise from Love & Pride.
Additionally, winners of the online event receive a private e-mail mentoring session with a writer from the show, as well as original wardrobe, an autographed script and DVDs and other merchandise.
There’s also the spotlight. Writers of the most highly rated scenes are prominently featured online. Showtime and FanLib will also publish a free eZine featuring the completed script, plus a number of alternative scenes and profiles of the winning contributors and other participants. The eZine will be distributed online to all of the participants and voters and other members of the show's online community, with sponsors appearing prominently through full-page ads.
“Consumer-generated media, from a marketer's perspective, has been looked down upon to some degree,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s the Wild West. It looks like something that’s untamed. What we’ve done is tamed it to some degree. We’ve given marketers and creative partners a level of control.”
The third season of the lesbian drama “The L Word,” which stars Jennifer Beals, Laurel Holloman, Mia Kirshner, Katherine Moennig, Erin Daniels, Leisha Hailey, Sarah Shahi, Rachel Shelley and Pam Grier, began Jan. 8. The fan-created script won’t be produced as part of the season, but may be shot in the future.
For Showtime, the script-writing offer wasn’t just a way to connect with fans of “The L Word,” it was also a way for the network, which doesn’t make money from advertising, to pair up one of its popular shows with marketers who weren’t afraid to partner with an edgy show. Add to that the chance to make some money: Sponsorship fees that FanLib collected from advertisers will be shared with Showtime.
In terms of the business model, FanLib will either create a community for an entertainment property itself and collect the money it makes from advertising, or be hired by a studio or network to produce an event and earn licensing and service fees.
But it’s the results that may get some marketers to take fan fiction a little more seriously.
Since the contest was launched in February, Showtime and FanLib have received nearly 1,300 scene submissions during the seven rounds of the contest. The network has said viewership for the series is up 50% over the previous season. And “The L Word” site has become its most visited destination. The contest’s site has logged over 160,000 visits as of a week ago, averaging 18 to 20 page views per visit. While the site has been targeting scribes, the majority of its audience has been made up of voters, with 120,000 plus votes collected so far.
With the Showtime project ending, FanLib is readying to launch several more entertainment projects built around TV shows, movies and books, whose content will be generated by fans and sponsored by brands. Pepsi is involved with one upcoming project as a sponsor. Brands are likely to be more actively integrated into the storylines in the future.
Mr. Williams said the Showtime project helped give fan fiction some validity -- for both Hollywood and Madison Avenue. “We always said that the first one was going to be important,” he said, citing legal issues and the cost for advertisers to participate as potential barriers. “It makes it so much easier going forward. ‘The L Word’ was our coming-out party.”
The women of “The L Word” would be proud.