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KateModern, a Web Video Success Story?

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KateModern may just be the best example so far of integrating original content and a social network. Created and owned by the Lonelygirl15 team, it was conceived to be a part of Bebo, the social network that’s especially popular in the UK (see our preview article from June; a plot summary video is below). Now approaching its first season finale, the show has been seen some 30 million times.

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Not only that, but the London-based series is profitable, with some £200,000 ($405,000) in revenue from sponsors Microsoft, Orange, Proctor & Gamble, Disney and Paramount Films. Most if not all of the sponsors are coming back for the second season, according to Joanna Shields, Bebo’s international president. Shields said she engineered the deal for KateModern with the Lonelygirl15 folks after seeing the tremendous traffic they drove on YouTube while she was at her previous gig, at Google.

According to Shields, KateModern has made tabloid celebrities out of its stars. And when the show wove into the plot a week-long scavenger hunt that had fans chasing a gnome all over London, hordes of people participated despite downpouring rain, she said. The entire series was also recently picked up by Virgin Atlantic for in-flight viewing.

We know better than to take view counts at face value, since it’s common for a series to draw a pop but not a regular audience, as we saw with the much-hyped quarterlife this week, and in the past with Prom Queen. However, KateModern consistently attracts 1 to 2 million views per week, according to creator Miles Beckett.

We haven’t been able to verify the numbers because the show uses the VideoEgg player, which doesn’t display play counts. But we should note that the show benefits from being Bebo’s first big foray into content, receiving featured placement on the Bebo homepage on a daily basis and drawing real-life Bebo users through interaction on characters’ fictional profiles on the social network. KateModern is also integrated into the popular universe of the original Lonelygirl15 series, which is ongoing. If you want to compare apples to apples, KateModern’s 30 million views have been spread out among 127 episodes, whereas Prom Queen, which was similarly integrated into MySpace, drew some 15 million views across 80 episodes.

Beckett, who lived in London for three months while teaching the LG15 school of online video to a local team, said he thinks KateModern has done “incredibly well” since he left. He said the LG15 team is in talks for three more spinoffs of the show in additional countries.

Shields admitted to some missteps in the integration of product placement in the show. “Tampax was horrible,” she said. “It makes men embarrassed to look at it. And Orange gave us very strict guidelines about how to talk about their brand and that didn’t work very well. But Microsoft was great ’cause we use the product all the time.” She also praised a Pantene placement from Proctor & Gamble that had one of the main characters making an ad campaign around the shampoo.

Shields said she expected that margins may decline slightly for the second season because Bebo and the KateModern team are going to increase the production value of the show. That, in and of itself, is interesting, considering Beckett’s partner Greg Goodfried preached the primacy of the amateur aesthetic when he was our featured guest at a NewTeeVee Pier Screening event over the summer.

We had the occasion to look into KateModern and other media efforts from Bebo as preparation for some radio commentary the BBC World Service asked me to do about online video. That aired today and can be accessed here, though I haven’t been able to listen to it yet as it requires RealPlayer.

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