Alloy’s new teen drama web series Private premiered today on Teen.com, kicking off its twenty-episode foray into the web TV waters. With the prequel casting call series completed (Sanna Haynes won the role of Kiran), the scripted private school mystery begins. We’ve been following this series since its announcement back in May, and it stands out as one of the only stable business models for web entertainment.
Making the step into web series is a natural move for Alloy Entertainment. This is the studio behind TV’s Gossip Girl and the forthcoming The Vampire Diaries and films like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. For parent company Alloy Media + Marketing, its entertainment arm is just a piece of its play to conquer the young adult market, a market it could be credited with redefining.
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It’s a well-orchestrated horizontal expansion into touching virtually every part of teen girls’ lives, from books to fashion to TV and movies and surfing the web. Quietly, the company has built out quite the teen media empire. Its digital network of web sites alone, which includes Teen.com, does about 52 million unique vistors a month. So with a solid content footing and a sizable distribution network all that was left was bringing in major sponsors which they have in Neutrogena and Johnson & Johnson’s Carefree.
At Alloy, they prefer to think of themselves as developing properties rather than shows. Most of their shows after all begin as teen novels (some would call them “chick lit”), often as a series of novels, before being further developed for other media. The book titles like Pretty Little Liars, The Clique, The A-List, The Vampire Diaries and Private seem custom made for their audience.
I spoke to Alloy Entertainment’s EVP, Josh Bank, who oversees the property internally and led the development of the Private web series. Starting as novel series, Bank pointed out, gives the web series a loyal built-in fan base even before it launches. “These fans are passionate,” said Bank, “even Photoshopping themselves into the book covers.” “We love having a passionate fan base because it serves as a great way to stir up interest in the web series,” he added.
The length of web series episodes continues to be tinkered with across the industry, but for Private, they are staying in the popular 4-6 minute range for now. It’s not a lot of time to develop strong dramatic characters on screen.
“Our lead character Reed Brennan (Kelsey Sanders) falls in love with a boy named Thomas (Brant Daugherty) and we have a short window to sell that relationship,” Bank noted. “It’s something we worked on with the writers to make the viewer has an emotional resinant experience in that time frame.” He did add that the length isn’t something they are locked on, potentially being adjusted as viewing patterns emerge. “This will be a growing experience for us to see where drop off occurs, if it occurs,” said Bank.
Bank also added that the company isn’t just focused on developing out novels. “Our team in New York is really coming up with ideas for all manner of media—books, TV shows, and now the Web for the first time,” he said. “We are content shop, if you will, creating IP (intellectual property).”
What About Marketing?
This question comes up quite a bit when asking producers about their plans to get those ever-fragmented viewing audiences to tune-in. Often the answer is something of a couched reference to limited budgets and hope for some sort of viral fan movement. But for Alloy, they seem to know what they’re doing. Promos for the series are set to run on an in-classroom cable channel called Channel One that puts 15 and 30-second spots directly in front of a captivated set of teens. Not surprisingly, Alloy also owns Channel One.
There’s also the book retailers, where the repackaged novels featuring cast members from the web series get prominent displays. Alloy Media + Marketing is said to be putting a sizable media spend behind the series. And perhaps it’s the books themselves that justify the spend, driving interest in what is a tangible product with broadly understood metrics—book sales.
The series will still face web TV’s more ‘fluid’ metrics, like online view counts and engagement charts, to make the decision of whether or not to do another season of Private. It still after all, has sponsors (Neutrogena and Johnson & Johnson) to keep happy. Either way, the series by design could end up a financial win right from the onset, whether or not new fans jump on board. For that, time will tell. The series will run exclusively on Teen.com with three new episodes per week through September 25th when it may see a broader online and mobile release.