Madison & Vine, Ad Age's original cross-section of the New York ad community and Hollywood, will be taking a broad look over the next year at the key players, projects and platforms in the digital branded-entertainment arena. Check in with M&V as we keep tabs on established players; check in with the media agencies and marketing firms that continue to staff up their branded-content divisions; or profile the newest studios and media companies entering the space.
The Player: Electric Farm Entertainment
Location: Santa Monica, Calif.
Key Execs: Stan Rogow, CEO and co-founder; Brent Friedman, co-founder and principal; Jeff Sagansky, co-founder and principal; Katrina Moran, chief operating officer
Key Projects: "Valemont," an MTV.com web series sponsored by Verizon Wireless that also aired on MTV and Verizon's Vcast mobile platform starring Eric Balfour and "Hairspray's" Nikki Blonsky; and "Woke Up Dead," a Crackle.com series sponsored by Kodak starring "Napoloeon Dynamite'"s Jon Heder and "Seinfeld'"s Wayne Knight.
The Background: Mr. Rogow, a longtime Disney veteran and executive producer of "Lizzie McGuire," and Mr. Friedman, a sci-fi screenwriter and producer, formed Electric Farm in 2006 to bring immersive TV-like storytelling to the web. Their first project, 2007's "Afterworld," was a $3 million animated series that premiered on MySpace and ran for a whopping 130 mini-episodes. Although the series generated over 1.5 million views on MySpace, 20 million global streams and became a popular channel on YouTube, its staggering 130-clip count eventually exhausted even the creators.
|Jon Heder, of "Napoloeon Dynamite" fame, stars in "Woke Up Dead."|
"When you're at Episode 60 and not even halfway done, you realize you've made a colossal mistake," Mr. Rogow said. Electric Farm applied those learnings to its next project, 2008's "Gemini Division," a collaboration with NBC Universal's Digital Studio that was one of the first online series to feature brand integrations, in this case Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, Acura and UPS. The series starred Rosario Dawson and yielded an exhausting 50 episodes, which taught more lessons to the Electric Farm team.
"We certainly saw the opportunity and desire to learn more about what 'internet entertainment' would mean at the time," he said. "But it's also became about finding ways to integrate products in ways that did not seem like a commercial, and show cool things about their stuff. From a brand point of view, that was a very significant way to touch the audience."
Next Steps: Electric Farm had a busy fall, launching two more big-budget web series, Sony Pictures Television and Crackle's "Woke Up Dead" and MTV's "Valemont," both of which found strong early audience. "Woke Up Dead" racked up 1.4 million streams in its first 10 days. "Valemont," which premiered online at MTV.com in late September, got major exposure when it premiered on-air between episodes of MTV's "The Hills" and "The City." An integrated sponsorship with Verizon Wireless drove viewers to watch clips of the show on Verizon's Vcast platform, where it got more total streams than MTV's VMA clips. A second season is currently in development with MTV to return in fourth-quarter, with Verizon in discussions to continue its sponsorship.
Each of Electric Farm's projects has been a multimillion-dollar affair, with budgets offset from sponsors, foreign distribution partners and traditional media distributors. "Valemont," for example, will launch globally later this year with MTV International. Although that series was the only to appear on TV, Mr. Rogow said that's not necessarily the end-game, in light of previous web-to-TV transfers from MySpace's "Quarter Life" and MSN's "In the Motherhood."
"Some people view that as the prize, and maybe it's because we've made that the prize in the past that we're pretty determined to have what we're making have real credibility in and of itself. Having the intellectual property continue to develop is something we're cognizant of, and we've been in a position where we own most of our IP."
It's that ownership that seems to have prepared Electric Farm for survival in a cutthroat environment for digital studios that claimed shops like United Talent Agency's 60Frames, despite a similar partnership with NBCU in 2008.
"We spend millions of dollars to make our shows because we want to make it of a quality that we're frankly used to making. We have also been able to find ways, principally with our relationship with the brands, for it make sense on a financial level and with our foreign distribution as well," he said.
As for working with sponsors, Mr. Rogow hopes to find more moments like the one in "Wake Up Dead" where Mr. Heder's character vomits all over his Kodak Zi6 camera, only to be relieved that it's splash-resistant. "We would have paid to write a line like that ourselves,' he said.