Remember Lonelygirl15? If you have ever been anywhere near YouTube then the chances are the answer is oh yes, or more likely oh no. This was the supposed video diary of a teenager on the run that resonated with intrigued, and often concerned, viewers around the globe. A total of 60 million hits on the videos, with an average viewing figure of 300,000 per episode.
Viewing figures and episodes? All sounds a little bit like TV doesn't it?
That's because it was. The YouTube postings and the Lonelygirl15 website was the brainchild of three twenty-something guys from California: Miles Beckett (a doctor), Greg Goodfried (a lawyer) and Mesh Flinders (A screenwriter.) Think Buffy for the YouTube generation and you pretty much have the concept wrapped up. Oh, plus the advertising, of course. Lonelygirl15 was the first YouTube video to bring product placement and advertising right into the clips on a commercial footing, with Hershey's Icebreaker's Sours Gum featuring in one episode and the Nutrogena brand covered in the plot over a two month period.
Beckett and Goodfried have moved on, and are now behind another interactive, online, mix and mash-up video drama. This time it is KateModern, commissioned by and screening exclusively on social networking site Bebo.com and aimed at a UK audience.
Plugged as a spin-off of Lonelygirl15, KateModern mixes newcomers with established stars of the UK TV scene to form a series of daily video blog installments. Further blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction by linking the characters with their Bebo profile pages and allowing the viewers to influence the story line directly by interacting with these profiles.
The press release talks of KateModern being "set against a hip London background, KateModern arrives to fill a void for the viewing youth, offering an attractive alternative to traditional TV which no longer satisfies their needs." The drama tells the story of four young adults searching for their personal identity in the setting of a mystery that unfolds across the Internet and through the streets of London. The series centers on 20-year-old Kate, a university art student who, against her parent's wishes, stays in London for the summer with her boyfriend, Tariq. Tariq has recently quit his investment banking job to pursue founding his own technology company with his pal, Gavin; while Kate's best friend, fun loving Aussie Charlie, helps Kate let her hair down a little! Viewers will follow Kate's struggle to balance her complex social life and the dark forces that shadow her.
Although the episodes will premiere on Bebo, they will also then get aired on YouTube of course to keep the publicity going. It's an interesting idea, and the whole Lonelygirl15 thing has proved that the teen online market in particular does have a taste for this kind of new reality programming. The addition of social networking into the mix is the real unique selling point though, allowing viewers to become friends with the characters. My fear would be that impressionable youngsters, already with a seemingly unquenchable thirst for feeling a part of the celebrity culture through magazines and MySpace, will get sucked into what could be an addictive mix of celebrity and belonging. Where does character play and online fun cross the line and become stalking behavior and unhealthy obsession?
If the producers of the KateModern can keep this in check, they might just have a valid social experiment on their hands here, not to mention an online ratings success story.