Reservoir Hill goes live this afternoon, unleashing NZ’s first web-only drama series. Creators David Stubbs and Thomas Robins are in for a busy couple of months.
The pair were talking with TVNZ about options for a new drama series when NZ On Air’s (NZOA) digital content fund kicked in. TVNZ, then looking to develop new teen drama and content for its website’s On Demand service, suggested that route to funding.
Despite Reservoir Hill going live (rather than to air) today, its creators are very happy to be working with a broadcaster because of the benefits the relationship brings. Not only does TVNZ provide the ability to promote the project on TV2, thereby reaching a good proportion of its target audience through ‘traditional’ media, but the broadcaster also has some track record in dealing with online content.
The numbers look like this. 2 – series of The Killian Curse Thomas Robin wrote for: also the number of TKC series RH lead Beth Chote appeared in; 5 or 6 – minutes in a Reservoir Hill webisode; 7 – days a week the production team works to deliver the series; 8 – webisodes in the series; 12 – the date this month it starts; 13, 14, 15, 16 – the ages of the (predominantly female) target audience; $306,143 – the amount of NZOA funding for the series.
As well as getting TVNZ on board, KHM also partnered with Run The Red (RTR), a Wellington-based digital mobile marketing company.
RTR worked alongside the production to develop and manage the interactive elements of the project, whereby viewers of the webisodes can text suggestions to Beth that might influence future elements in her story (and have her text back to them).
Viewers can also read Beth’s blog, become ‘friends’ on her Bebo page, and leave messages (to which she might respond).
The promotional activity is bearing fruit, as the number of friends has jumped from 42 on Friday to 119 at lunchtime today, even before the first webisode is available.
The immediacy and responsiveness of the project is both its attraction and a potential bugbear for the creators. The length of the series is set; the creators have a rough arc designed and a budget to work to. Outlandish suggestions – even orchestrated campaigns – that propose Beth hop a flight to the south of France to escape her problems are not going to be picked up.
The team will have to steer the project carefully to maintain (roughly) the course that’s been mapped out and deliver on the expectations that are being built in the online community that their input has some value.
The team writes each episode on a Wednesday, taking on board suggestions received via text. On Thursdays, the team shoots and uploads Beth’s vlog on the project’s Bebo page. On Saturdays, they shoot the next episode, which then gets edited and goes live on Monday afternoons.
It’s a fairly punishing schedule, but David says the team is all onboard and has developed a good feeling for the demands of the fast turnaround.
Although the project is all web-focused, it’s being shot on HD, so it has the potential to be re-edited as a standalone drama for TV broadcast in the future.
TVNZ will keep all the episodes available on its website during the series’ run, so latecomers can play catch-up – and at 5 or 6 minutes per episode it’s not a major demand on time to catch up 2 or 3 weeks in, even for a teenager.
Given the absence of a TV broadcast and the traditional methods of measuring audience, the information collected becomes a different ballgame, which spawns a new model for financing.
The number of texts received and friend requests are easily counted, as are the TVNZ website and Bebo page visits , both in total and for unique visitors. However, some of the demographic information picked up in traditional TV ratings are harder to come by.
Nonetheless, the project has attracted sponsorship from Sony and Telecom, through whose TWorld WAP portal the webisodes will be available for delayed viewing.
The webisodes on TVNZ’s site are geo-blocked, as part of TVNZ’s strategy to retain ownership of the content and deliver value to sponsors.
Although TVNZ isn’t saying what its performance indicators for the project are, Simon Elder cites two and a half years of running TVNZ’s On Demand service as well as a couple of other teen-focused projects, Warner Brothers’ Rockwell, California and Sorority Forever (featuring lonelygirl15 and sometime Kiwi Jessica Rose) as previous projects against which TVNZ can compare data.
Teenage girls represent a demographic that’s hard to reach through TV programming, so although Reservoir Hill is an attempt to engage with that group.
NZ On Air supported Amazing Extraordinary Friends at an average $143,000 per episode over its 3 series, so its support of just over $300,000 for 8 (admittedly shorter) episodes of RH is an economic way of testing the waters.
Reservoir Hill starts today and can be viewed here.