College vamps prove TV is not the final litmus test anymore

It's a sign of the times - and the future. As the newly minted CMF invests more in traditional TV producers migrating to online delivery, Breakthrough Films and Television's transmedia vampire serial Valemont is headed the other way, to MTV Networks International as a spin-off TV series.

It’s a sign of the times – and the future.

As the newly minted CMF invests more in traditional TV producers migrating to online delivery, Breakthrough Films and Television’s transmedia vampire serial Valemont is headed the other way, to MTV Networks International as a spin-off TV series.

Breakthrough and LA-based coproducer Electric Farm Entertainment last summer shot 40 two-minute webisodes of Valemont in Toronto for MTV.com and ValemontU.com, a website built by Fuel Industries.

The multiplatform series blended web content and product placement as it portrayed a teenage vampire who goes undercover disguised as a student at Valemont College to solve a murder mystery.

Valemont as branded webisodes may be just what the CMF has in mind for indie producers when it talks about truly interactive projects with multiple storylines in the same fictional universe succeeding across a range of digital platforms in Canada and abroad.

How did that work in practice with Valemont? The original web-based series was written by screenwriter Christian Taylor (Lost, Six Feet Under), who understands both long-form TV writing and short-form web- and mobile-based writing with ever-present cliff-hangers, and how everything must dovetail in a multiplatform project.

So, as a teaser, MTV last fall got Verizon Wireless to underwrite the cost of giving TV viewers a taste of Valemont by airing webisodes before and after episodes of The Hills and The City.

And MTV aired a one-hour ‘extended version’ of Valemont, ending at the 12th sponsored webisode, to drive new viewers to MTV.com to watch the remaining webisodes and alternate endings for the entire mystery series.

Here’s the kicker: TV is not the intended default switch for Valemont. TV’s role is instead to cross-promote the web-based serial as branded entertainment.

After all, more than TV ratings, the Valemont producers prized a high click-through rate by young MTV viewers from on-air to online. The aim last fall was to show MTV Networks and other potential broadcasters the value of Valemont as a multiplatform project, including linear TV, with interactivity and different and additional digital content.

The result, says Breakthrough executive producer Ira Levy, is a ubiquitous Valemont brand tailored in content to reach on-the-go consumers across a range of emerging platforms.

‘It goes to show how you can creatively at inception come up with a show or content that can work across different platforms, but have a different form that works on different mediums,’ Levy explains.

The Canadian-shot web TV foray worked. MTV Networks International has reupped with Valemont distributor Fireworks International for a second season of the multiplatform project, this time to include a 100-minute TV movie as a backdoor pilot for a potential new drama series. Crucially, MTV isn’t licensing an actual TV show from Fireworks, but a multiplatform project as it continues to evolve.

Canadian Stefan Scaini, the director of the original webisodes, will showrun the web-to-TV crossover.

Electric Farm CEO Stan Rogow (Lizzie McGuire) isn’t saying yet whether the Los Angeles producer will return to Toronto to shoot Valemont’s second semester with Breakthrough, but adds: ‘We love Canada.’

Aside from Valemont, where are the rest of the Internet TV producers headed in an increasingly connected digital world?

Electric Farm and Breakthrough are joining a crowded made-for-Internet production field that includes Michael Eisner’s Vuguru, which is backed by Rogers Communications, and Ashton Kutcher’s Katalyst.

Like Valemont, their web TV efforts include sponsored webisodes, archived back episodes, community blogs and interactive content applications to go deeper into characters and virtual worlds and online games.

And they package web content with advertisers, as with Ben Silverman’s studio Electus creating for MTV Pedro & Maria, an interactive, bilingual telenovela developed for both TV and the web, with Procter & Gamble on board as a sponsor and coproducer.

Getting in business with marketers, says Breakthrough’s Levy, is part and parcel of new and unfolding financing and storytelling models for web TV forays that includes sponsorship, product placement, a broadcaster, international distributors and tax credits.

‘This show is brought to you by placing product identification in the show, and trying to make it work creatively,’ he says of transmedia projects like Valemont.

The Producers Guild of America this month woke up to this changing media landscape by adding the transmedia producer credit to the guild’s producer code of credits. As audiences increasingly experience content across a range of platforms, including online, mobile, VOD and now the iPad, the PGA argued that the producer starts and sustains the complex and creative process that allows that to happen.

That’s advice worth noting as the CMF ever so slowly untethers Canadian interactive digital media from broadcast licences and television content by putting domestic broadcasters in the driver’s seat with funding envelopes, and producers and most everyone else down the food chain in the back of the car.