Circle of 8Keith Quinn, Paramount Digital Entertainment Senior VP of Creative Development and Production, is a big fan of LOST and lightweight ARGs. So it’s not a big surprise that the new web series coming out of PDE is a supernatural thriller that incorporates interactive gaming elements…along with a heck of a lot of Mountain Dew. The brand has signed on as a sponsor for the series, and will be tightly integrated into both the storytelling and gaming experience. Circle of 8 will debut in October exclusively on MySpace and a mobile partner, followed by distribution via a variety of outlets and formats.

As web television continues to develop, one of the key questions for show creators is cracking the mystery of how the business actually works. Where do deals originate, how does one get a sponsor on board and how does web video generate revenue? Though Circle of 8 is a show with a lot of suspense, I was able to get Quinn and Mountain Dew Director of Marketing Marisol Tamaro to spill some of the secrets about the anatomy of this deal.

Breaking Down The Deal

William Morris Endeavor EntertainmentCircle of 8 originated with Milchan/Van Eyssen, a new media production company with a first-look deal at PDE. Partner David Van Eyssen reached out to Mountain Dew about a year ago through a relationship with the William Morris Agency (now William Morris Endeavor Entertainment). At the time, WMA repped actor Forrest Whittaker, who had been involved with the brand’s “Dewmocracy” campaign, an interactive, story-based online game that allowed consumers to have a voice in determining a new Dew beverage.
Says Tamaro, “Van Eyssen was familiar with what we had been able to achieve with our online Dewmocracy experience and how Mountain Dew has been very experimental in the digital space. He pitched us the original idea for Circle of 8 — this interactive storytelling concept that we thought was really compelling – and we thought it would fit well with our Dew consumer.”

Mountain Dew logoAt the same time they were courting Mountain Dew, MVE was in talks with MySpace to come on board as the primary distribution partner. Thus when they came in to pitch Circle of 8 to Paramount Digital, MVE had the majority of the package in place, making it an easier decision for the studio to green light the project. Eventually, Endemol came on board to handle sponsorship and international distribution packaging.

Quinn broke down the relationship between the different entities by comparing it to traditional television. “If the analogy is to LOST, then MVE is Bad Robot Productions, we’re Touchstone Television and MySpace is ABC.”

When a brand is involved in a creative endeavor from the start, things can get tricky, but Tamaro describes the process as a collaborative one. “We actually have weekly conference calls with all four entities: Mountain Dew, MySpace, PDE and MVE,” she explains. “Obviously Paramount Digital and Milchan/Van Eyssen developed the original storyline. They were very gracious in allowing us to have some initial input into that.”

Mountain Dew - Green Label ArtThroughout the development process, Dew has been actively involved with trying to find an authentic way to involve the brand beyond traditional product placement or simply slapping their logo on a pre-roll ad. The group bounced ideas around until they settled on credible integration points they felt would deliver something unique and engaging to the audience without compromising the creative integrity of the series. As an example, Tamaro mentioned the creation of a custom Circle of 8 aluminum bottle that will contain an encoded message for fans. The 16 oz. bottle will be part of Green Label Art, Dew’s collection of bottles designed by artists from different cultural backgrounds.

As the studio, PDE is ultimately responsible for developing, financing and distributing the content for both the web series and the corresponding game. They own the rights to the content, and as such, ultimately decide where and how it’s going to be distributed. MySpace made sense as a partner because of their young, scalable audience coupled with their ability to hyper-target. Says Quinn, “They are a major video destination on the web. They are going to make sure lots and lots of people in the MySpace community and elsewhere see this project.” MySpace is not paying a license fee for Circle of 8.

Paramount DigitalWhile so far all involved have been silent on details about the cast and creative folk involved in the series (these guys taking the suspense element really seriously!), they’ve been quite verbal about the “cinematic” quality level of the series. Despite the failure of companies such as 60Frames that have attempted to find success by mixing brands with recognizable talent and established production entities, Quinn is confident about the prospects for Circle of 8.

“I think it’s partially the way that we’re putting it together, ” he says. “Paramount has the ability to finance content – and we’re only financing that content when we have a clear path to profitability through the multiple revenue streams that we have against it. We have advertising supported platforms, and we have transactional and licensing widows for distribution. There’s a very boring but important analysis component that goes into this. We’ve done that analysis on this project, and on the others that we have in the pipeline that are marching toward greenlight.”

Though Quinn wouldn’t give me the list of ingredients in PDE’s secret analytic sauce, he did say that it involves choosing strong creative they feel will connect with the distributors, audiences and brands that are supporting it. Another key component is ensuring that the projects are done at the right economic level so that their budgets are in line with potential profits.

It’s a bit of a vicious – or should I say benevolent – circle (pun intended). PDE’s recoupment from their distribution network, which in the case of Circle of 8 will include redistribution of the series as a full-length feature showcasing the choices made by the audience online, allows the studio to work with higher budgets, thus creating premium products that attract sponsors and creative partners. PDE is betting on the fact that quality of their series will differentiate them in the marketplace, thereby drawing more eyeballs, which will generate more revenue, which will allow the studio to keep producing.

Now that we’ve demystified the business aspects of Circle of 8, we’d like to find out more about the storyline. After all, you can have a great package, but the content inside the box is ultimately what needs to connect with consumers. I’m sure more will be revealed when they make their casting announcement, which is expected next week. Stay tuned…

Tamara KrinskyTamara Krinsky is an actress, journalist and new media producer. She has appeared in web series such as Back on Topps and The Shaman, along with a variety of film, TV & theater projects. As a reporter, she focuses on entertainment, science and tech news. She hosted the weekly tech show THE SPOTLIGHT for TomsGuide.com, was a correspondent for PBS’s WIRED SCIENCE, and was a Webby honoree for the independent film series AT THE FEST, which she produced and hosted. She is currently the Associate Editor of DOCUMENTARY Magazine. In addition to her adventures on camera, Krinsky became intimately acquainted with the business of web video while working for 2.5 years at the entertainment marketing firm Crew Creative, where she strategized and produced online content for clients including the Discovery Channel, TLC, Warner Independent Pictures, Picture People and Overture Films.