The mockumentary web series doesn't premiere until Feb. 4, but already it has the attention of brands hungry to connect with marketing-suspicious teens: Initiative Media, home to clients such as Carl's Jr., Cadbury-Schweppes and Victoria's Secret, yesterday agreed to serve as a media partner to secure sponsors. It's also just closed a distribution deal with video-sharing site Veoh.
Attention Span Media
"Dorm-Life" marks the first project to emerge from the newly formed Attention Span Media, a production studio specializing in original content for mobile and online portals. In addition to "Dorm-Life," Attention Span has been creating content for third parties, including Mogreet, a soon-to-launch mobile video messaging company, and The Huffington Post.
"Dorm-Life" will have sponsorship woven into its creative fabric, like Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz's MySpace series "Quarterlife." In one Toyota-financed episode of "Quarterlife," two characters land an assignment producing a TV commercial for -- what else? -- a Toyota dealership.
And, like "Quarterlife," which airs part one of its six-part, fifth episode today, "Dorm-Life" started out as something originally intended for broadcast TV.
Attention Span was formed by Peter White, Garrett Law and A.J. Lewis last year, shortly after they'd finished work on their local Emmy Award-winning special, "Behind the Lyrics," about the travails of an aspiring Angeleno singer/songwriter, and long before "Quarterlife" got under way at MySpace.
"We started it to produce content for our TV station," said Mr. Law, the company's chief operating officer. "Being in L.A., you see there's a large amount of talent that's not working on a project at any given time."
Mr. Law and his partners used to own Los Angeles independent TV station KHIZ; they sold the station, but kept "Dorm-Life."
'Organic' product placement
The 20-episode mockumentary was created, written and directed by a mix of seven current and former college students, and follows 10 collegians thrown together to live on the same dormitory floor. Mr. Law calls "Dorm-Life" "a platform for organic, not-as-obvious placement" that targets young consumers "wherever they get their media."
During the first week of the launch, four of the under-five-minute episodes will be released, starting with the Feb. 4 premiere. Then a new episode will be released every week, with all aired webisodes available to view on the "Dorm-Life" website.
But Attention Span's producers were also careful not to treat the web simply as a TV with a mouse for a remote: Besides housing the actual episodes, the show's website will also feature fresh content, released each weekday, including webcam vignettes and special photo and video features that will give viewers additional insight into the "Dorm-Life" characters. Visitors will be able to create profiles, contact the characters and interact with them on discussion boards.
Of course, "Dorm-Life" is not the first attempt to sell package goods via buxom 20-somethings. In September, GoTV Networks teamed with Tide for a live-action webseries called "Crescent Heights," while in October, Ford integrated into the MySpace series "Roommates." But it does mark a shift in the closeness with which a media firm and a production house will collaborate.
"It's not an exact science, and it'll only be as effective as it is popular," said Jon Haber, director of Initiative Media's innovations department. "But for your advertising to be noticed, your advertising has to be content."