The show's creators believe video watchers (and advertisers) are hooked on other members of the ensemble. Series co-creator Greg Goodfried said viewer numbers for episodes of season two held constant with the average number of views of episodes in season one. "The other characters have MySpace pages and fan clubs just like Bree," Mr. Goodfried said. MySpace brought in an entirely new set of viewers, he said, who don't have any attachments to older characters.
Lonelygirl's popularity has only continued to soar since last fall's revelation that what seemed like a teen girl's innocent -- albeit somewhat mysterious -- online video log was actually a scripted show with young actors, one portraying 15-year-old Bree. Before the curtain was pulled back, each episode attracted 150,000 to 200,000 viewers, but the numbers have increased to between 250,000 to 300,000 since last fall, Mr. Goodfried and show publicist Jill Siegel said. Statistics on websites such as YouTube show that some episodes have attracted more than 1 million views.
The series' episodes are short, averaging between one and three minutes, and they're interactive. Co-creator Miles Beckett said the show has added to the online landscape by mixing elements that were already being used in online programming with social networking. "All of that really creates an experience that's unlike a lot of the other content that's online right now," he said.
The show completed its first season on Aug. 3, with a 12-part season finale. In a deal with MySpaceTV, the episodes premiered on MySpace before being posted on other outlets. Most shocking about the finale was the death of Bree, who was finally caught by the members of the religious cult who wanted to use her as part of a sinister ceremony.
Ms. Siegel said that for three days the finale generated more than 1 million views on MySpace and more than 1.6 million on YouTube.
Sophisticated ad methods
Advertising is also helping the program survive. The series' website had featured typical banner ads and sponsorships from Google AdSense, but it was redesigned early this month. Mr. Goodfried said the team behind the show is looking into more sophisticated methods of advertising.
One possible ad model involves tapping into ideas from viewers. Because the show is based on an interactive experience between the characters and viewers, the website includes a forum that lets fans discuss all things Lonelygirl. A moderator, who goes by the name BrokenKid, often throws out questions about advertising -- viewers have been asked to comment on the show's street team and how Lonelygirl might include advertising from other companies. A recent post requesting help to publicize the show online garnered more than 50 positive responses from the community. Other threads on the message board show blessings for the advertising, as long as the show continues.
The program also has become a place where marketers can feature their products. Lonelygirl's first encounter with advertising involved weaving Hershey's IceBreakers Sour Gum into the show, and the gum was prominently featured in an episode (Bree refused to share the product with her friends). The spot represented a way for Hershey's to keep up with the ways people consume entertainment, said Kirk Saville, a spokesman for the marketer.
The show took advertising one step further with a brand integration of Johnson & Johnson's Neutrogena line. As part of a two-month deal, Neutrogena became an integral part of the plot, with a new character, Spencer Gilman, working as a scientist for the company. Neutrogena provided the character with a real Neutrogena e-mail address and an employee-of-the-month page on its website. A Neutrogena spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
While Mr. Goodfried said he sees this as the model for future advertising, he emphasized that story lines will not be created around a brand. "We just sit down and write a story. Consciously, in the back of our minds, we understand that we will have to go pitch aspects of a story to a brand. If they say no and everyone says no then we still do the story exactly how we planned," he said.
Spinoff also has ad deals in place
Similar methods are already in full swing for Lonelygirl's first spinoff, KateModern. Set in London, the show is based on the idea that there are several other girls like Bree around the world who are wanted by a mysterious religious order. The show has a deal with Bebo, a U.K. social-networking site, to premiere the videos.
"What's unique here is the immersiveness of the program inside a social network, enabling you to do stuff that you can't do on YouTube," said Ziv Navoth, VP-marketing, Bebo. "People are for the first time realizing what it means to develop a show for the internet, and not just repackaging it for the internet."
Although KateModern started this spring, there are already deals with MSN, Walt Disney's Buena Vista, Paramount, Procter & Gamble, and Orange Mobile, a British telephone company. The deal with Orange Mobile will also include mobile episodes that Orange customers can download for free, Mr. Navoth said. The Lonelygirl team is looking to have more spinoffs based in several cities.