A Book Packager Takes a Step Into Web Video
The New York Times
May 7, 2009
Alloy Entertainment has proved adept at turning its young-adult book series into successful movies and television shows. “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” was a 2005 Warner Brothers movie that spawned a 2008 sequel. “Gossip Girl” is in its second season on the CW network, and a spinoff is a possibility for the network’s fall schedule. An adaptation of “The Vampire Diaries” from Kevin Williamson, the creator of “Dawson’s Creek,” is also waiting in the wings at the network.
With that track record, you might think the book-packaging company would stick to the tried and true. But Alloy — which was built on the practice of creating storylines for young girls and securing ownership of the pseudonyms under which the books are written, much as Nancy Drew’s originator, Stratemeyer Syndicate, did in the 1930s — is taking an unproven path. It is finding novel ways to package its latest brand expansion by cutting out the middleman and working directly with its advertisers and audience.
The company is preparing to introduce a show based on “Private,” its New York Times best-selling series of mystery novels for teenage girls, set at a fictional Connecticut boarding school. In the past, Alloy has had to share expenses and profits from producing adaptations of its books, often with a division of Warner Brothers (Alloy has a first-look deal with Warner Brothers Television), but it will stream the “Private” Web series on its parent company Alloy Marketing and Media’s online video hub on Teen.com. Without the promotional muscle of a network behind it, Alloy is using the company’s holdings online and in schools to promote the series, which will be preceded by an online reality show on which real-life teenagers will compete for a role on the scripted drama.
“It’s an opportunity to be closer to the audience and the advertiser,” said Leslie Morgenstein, president of Alloy Entertainment. Creative Artists Agency, which represents Alloy, won the sponsorship of four Johnson & Johnson brands: Neutrogena, Neutrogena Cosmetics, O.B. and Carefree — a practice normally done by a network — which will advertise and receive integrated product placement on both the reality and scripted series.
“I think we’ve come up with very creative ways to provide bang for the buck for the brands,” Mr. Morgenstein said.
For the scripted series, “it’s very important that it be subtle and not distract from the story,” said the director of “Private,” Dennie Gordon, who also directed the movie “What a Girl Wants.” The reality series will showcase sponsors in ways intended to resonate with the audience. One of the on-air challenges will be an audition for a commercial for one of the brands. “There you have it: the brand messaging is alive, but the kids are seeing an acting competition,” Mr. Morgenstein said. “That serves the audience and the brands.” The resulting commercial will be shown at the end of an episode and on Teen.com.
“It is extremely targeted advertising,” said Jeff Sagansky, a former broadcast-network executive who is a founder of Electric Farm, which is producing online series like “Gemini Division.”
“It is obviously the antithesis of broadcast,” he said. “This is much more targeted and yet it’s still mass. You can do 10, 20 million views of your creative and it also can be extremely cost-effective because you’re not only buying the impressions but you’re in many cases integrated right into the show.”
Mr. Morgenstein said there were plans to promote “Private” across Alloy’s properties, including the in-school TV network Channel One, the teenage-oriented online clothing retailers Alloy and Delia’s, and a network of in-school billboards and advertising space, all of which are aimed at the show’s intended audience of girls 13 to 16, whose greatest goal, according to Mr. Morgenstein, is to be famous.
“Popular? No thanks,” said Mr. Morgenstein, speaking about the aspirations of teenage girls. “I want to be famous.” Alloy is happy to oblige. Starting Thursday, fans can set up profiles on www.privatetheseries.com, download “Private” script excerpts and upload audition videos for consideration to be one of the three girls chosen to compete for a supporting role.
Though users will get to see the auditions and vote for fan favorites, a yet-to-be-determined team of judges will decide who will be invited to Los Angeles. There, a week of auditioning will be chronicled in the reality series’ six episodes of four to six minutes each, which make their debut on July 21. “This is a skill and talent competition,” Ms. Gordon said. “They don’t have to eat bugs or bungee jump or risk getting voted off the island. They just have to be the best actress for the role.”
And that actress needs to be gorgeous. The supporting role they’re seeking to fill is Kiran, a model who is one of Easton Academy’s Billings Girls, an elite sorority at the center of the mysteries in “Private.” “Sometimes finding the most beautiful girl who also has real acting chops is the biggest challenge,” Ms. Gordon said. “But I’ve been doing this long enough to know that she is out there.”
The character’s name is similar to Kieran Scott, the real name of the woman who writes the “Private” novels under the Alloy-owned pseudonym Kate Brian. Alloy’s old-fashioned practice of owning the writer’s pen name has raised some eyebrows in the publishing industry, but Mr. Morgenstein said he was proud of the company’s process and its relationship with Ms. Scott, who “will be promoting the Web series.”
The 20-episode series, being written by former writers of the “Ugly Betty” series, Veronica Becker and Sarah Kucserka, will begin in mid-August. It will cover the first four books (the 10th installment will be released this fall), giving the season a complete story arc: the protagonist Reed Brennan’s first year at Easton includes the murder of her boyfriend, her entry into the Billings Girls sorority and the resolution of the murder mystery.
And every story has to be told in four to six minutes. “We think that is the optimum length to both tell a story and retain attention,” said Mr. Morgenstein.