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Gemini Division a Litmus Test for Old Media, New Media

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When Gemini Division premieres on Monday, the show won’t just be the debut series for NBC’s new digital studio; it will be a litmus test for whether old media can play successfully in web video.

This web show has the weight of the traditional media world on its shoulders: In my opinion, the success or failure of Gemini Division will be critical for the web video economy in general and for traditional media in particular. CBS owns Moblogic, Sony inked a distribution deal just last week with Rocketboom, and for such marriages to continue, Gemini Division must thrive.

That’s because the show has all the ingredients one theoretically needs for programming success. For starters, big name star Rosario Dawson is fronting the show. Second, NBC has snagged major brand advertisers in Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, Acura and UPS. (C’mon, we don’t see that quintet advertising in Web video too often). Third, the show has a broadcast network’s muscles behind it.

This all means Gemini Division better be a big fat hit or else the ABCs, Sonys, and Warner Brothers of the world could very well start to lose interest in content creation for the Web video medium.

After all, if a web show like Gemini Division fails, why bother investing in online video?

But I think the show has a good chance at becoming a big breakout hit.

There’s a lot of buzz online about the show. And while NBC hasn’t said what it paid digital media studio Electric Farm Entertainment to create the show, the show’s financial model seems to makes sense; ad money pulled in in advance of production helped finance the show. “We won’t greenlight until we have brands lined up who want to be in the show,” said Cameron Death, VP of NBC Universal Digital Studio.

Landing a celebrity is becoming de rigeur, too, because a star brings in a ready-made audience. Look for more Web shows to do this. The creators behind The Writers Room on Crackle told me recently that in order for Crackle to pick up a second season the show will need a heavy celebrity cameo quotient.

The celebrity component was critical to NBC too. “When I look at us as a network we are about A-list talent, high-end production and the ability to create a safe place for brands to play,” Death said. “Having Rosario Dawson attached makes that an easier conversation to have.”

Now it’s up to the potential audience of Gemini Division. And let’s hope the audience grows over the show’s 50 episodes because the web video economy could use a healthy influx of ad dollars from additional brand advertisers who might become more interested in the medium thanks to a Gemini Division success.

Daisy Whitney is a contributing writer with TelevisionWeek and the host of the New Media Minute, a weekly webcast on the business of online video.

32 Responses to “Gemini Division a Litmus Test for Old Media, New Media”

  1. @Deleted: The Game – Not sure how the ARG-like experience will play out for Gemini Division. Guess we will start to find out at the end of next week. The reason I mention ARG-like is because I don’t think it is meant to be a full fledged hard-core ARG.

    I think that Gemini Division is both something more and something less than a full fledged ARG-only type of experience, an experience that requires players to actively participate in order to advance the story line.

    Gemini Division is different in that it involves viewers at the level they desire to be involved and it doesn’t require its viewers to actively participate in order to advance the storyline. This allows it to reach a larger audience.

    I think Gemini Division will be incorporating elements of alternate reality gaming and infusing them into their immersive multi-platform interactive experience as a supplement to the main content. They should also be releasing Graphic Novels that will further deepen the story.

    In regard to a replicate ARG-like experience, NBC did this with Heroes Evolutions. The fictional character Hana was introduced in the US, and later a different fictional character Bridget Bailey was introduced in the UK. They each had similar super abilities and functioned in parallel though time-shifted ARG-like arcs. This is an example of a replicate ARG-like experience staged at different times for different global communities.

    It will be interesting to see what EFE and Sony do in regard to providing a replicate experience. I know that I am looking forward to acquiring my fictional PDA when I join up with Gemini Division and begin participating.

    Nice to hear from a fellow fan of Gemini Division in particular and of new media in general. I signed up for Deleted: The Game, but haven’t had the time of late to really dig in yet.

    Thanks for the interaction. Definitely room for more thought, for questions, and for interaction.

  2. @Tim Todd on August 18th, 2008 at 4:46 pm – I can agree that international distribution is complex. Especially in juggling the complex deal making that one has to deal with when (a) trying to recoup a relatively large, for the genre, $1.75M investment (b) adhering to more traditional deal making concepts like windows, territories, exclusivity, technologies, etc.

    As a result, I do think the internet deserves a rethink. Not that we have the answers but we are trying to do different things differently.

    I have immense respect for Brent and the EFE team for their previous work and pulling together an amazing project, casting Rosario Dawson … genius(!!), and for pulling of the NBC and the Sony deals. Perhaps it will be clearer down the road but I struggle to see how the same or slightly tweaked versions of the same ARG can be effectively played around the world at different times. I’ve always thought of ARGs as quite perishable, non-repeating events.

    Nevertheless, I am a fan of Gemini Division and while I may appear to not understand everything, I am without reservation wholly desirous that it succeeds.

    @ Liz – that’s a shame. I really do think it would serve them better to allow downloading and embedded players even if the streams were geoblocked outside the USA. Of course, if they do have a larger marketing budget then their tactic might well be to force visitors to their sites for other benefits.

    @SR on August 21st, 2008 at 11:20 pm – I certainly hope you’re wrong and do hope Gemini Division rocks all over the world so people will start looking for little indies like ours :-)

  3. @Frank

    I agree that a simultaneous rollout in all markets with local advertisers on board would be the best way to go. But I think you overestimate NBC’s ability to coordinate something like that globally.

    “By then just about everyone with an interest in it worldwide will have seen it WITHOUT ads.”

    I doubt any web series has ever really exhausted its potential audience. “The Evolution of Dance” on YouTube has been viewed 95 million times; even if that number represented 95 million uniques, that’s still only about 1.5% of the world’s population or less than 7% of the world’s total wired population. ( And, of course, I think Gemini Division will get far fewer uniques than that.

    In fact, I’d be very surprised If Gemini Division gets more than half a million uniques from non-English territories. Wouldn’t a dubbed/subtitled version distributed by a regional portal, social network or TV channel reach a much larger audience in those territories?

  4. Strange about the embed of Gemini Division episodes. I have seen NBC widget’s for episodes 1 & 2 at a number of sites. I was able to embed episodes through Hulu, but I haven’t found the source for the NBC embeds. Anyone know where the NBC source is? NBC appears to have higher quality streaming for Gemini Division.

    Tim Todd

  5. It will be released in other countries when it is too late. By then just about everyone with an interest in it worldwide will have seen it WITHOUT ads. And likely will not spend any money on getting it on download stores. Maybe they will re-watch them. But the likelihood of re-watching a TV series historically has been very slim.

    @SR do you really still think in domestic terms?

    The problem in geo blocking hurting each domestic market’s ad revenue severely is that once it’s out. It’s out and won’t come back. It would have been trivial to set this up with NBC’s global partners and launch it without restrictions. This would have gotten NBC a couple of millions extra revenue and would have lived up to the old model of domestic-only advertising vs geo-aware advertising.

  6. @Deleted: The Game,

    Thanks for the comment and the continued conversation. From what I understand, Gemini Division they will be releasing Graphic Novels and mobisodes (lite versions of webisodes) for mobile devices.

    In regard to geolocking (interesting subject):

    The content that is Gemini Division seeks to leverage itself across multiple platforms and technologies while at the same time providing an ARG-like experience. It is important to remember that as we get closer to converged and interactive content, the complexity and diversity of that content increases as well.

    Old media content was and is relatively easy to distribute to a global mass audience. There were less moving pieces and traditional media emphasized mass consumption of that content. New media content on the other hand emphasizes interactivity and active participation while catering to niche audiences and communities.

    As new media becomes more technically complex and grows to exist across multiple technological platforms, the task of producing and distributing that content internationally becomes more difficult and costly. We can’t just flip a switch and solve the problem. It isn’t that easy. There will be growing pains no doubt about it as we rethink, produce, and distribute new media. The global distribution of complex, cross platform interactive content is one of those hurdles and there is definitely room for more thinking on the issue.

    One of the interesting notes from the pre-screening conference call that I was able to be a part of, is that Gemini Division will be released to other territories and that each territory will have its own replicate ARG experience.

    I also found a quote from Brent Friedman detailing the reasoning for a staged territory release of the show. It appears to match the reasoning above.

    “G-D is geo-blocked because Sony will be releasing the series outside the U.S. in the very near future. In order to give the show the best shot, Sony is creating a unique multi-platform release for each territory. This means translating the content into many languages, managing the marketing and customizing the experience depending on local distribution partners. Coordinating this kind of effort on a global scale is not impossible, but it’s not realistic for a project of this (relative) scale. Although this approach does not fully embrace the potential of the worldwide web, it was very effective on our first show, Afterworld, in building a brand and an international audience. Bottom line: if it ain’t broke…”

    Tim Todd

  7. @Frank I’m confused why you think geofiltering means advertisers get “ripped off.”

    I would think that Intel’s US ad agency is paying for the sponsorship out of their US budget, and judging the success of their efforts based on US sales.

    Non-US views don’t help Intel meet its domestic sales goals for the year, so the only rip-off would be if NBC were charging them for non-US impressions.

  8. We’re really hoping Gemini Division does well. This is the kind of innovative product that fully exploits the interactivity offered by internet. The success of Gemini Division would bring some much needed attention to indie projects like ours.

    While low cost digital camcorder technology and an abundance of non-union talent is making it possible for indie low-budget projects like ours to compete with the majors from an entertainment perspective, we just cannot compete with the marketing muscle :-( The silver lining for us is that if there was a medium where a grassroots web show could succeed, it would be with the virality of the internet.

    @Tim Todd – agreed, it’s a shame they are ringfencing the content via geoblocking, we believe web video producers need to fully embrace the internet of Chris Andersen’s ilk and be set free. They should seriously consider distributing over multiple platforms including mobile.

  9. Here is why it probably will be the biggest failure in new media history.

    • geo blocking
      Which means that:
    1. their advertisers get ripped off
    2. everyone but US citizens will get it for free without providing metrics to NBC

    Now launch Google Earth and you’ll see why that’s a bad thing.

    A sane person would think that someone who is remotely able to understand your show, could be marketed to. So NBC is effectively betraying their advertising clients from an audience of millions.

    If I were the contact rep at Carat North Atlantic, I’d cut the budget immediately and block off funding for all coming web shows till that block gets removed.

    NBC nuked Gemini Division’s fridge.

  10. I found a quote from:

    “The first webisodes will premiere on August 18th on and… Webisodes will also be available weekly on VOD via Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon FiOS and DISH Network, in addition to EST (Electronic Sell-Through) via Amazon Unbox, Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE and Zune, NBC Mobile and several online video portals.”

    I like your blog Daisy, adding you to my blog roll.

    Tim Todd

  11. Thanks for all the comments! They are really thoughtful and everyone raises good points. To address a few things raised in the comments:

    I do wish Gemini Division was going to be on iTunes/AppleTV. I think that is a drawback of the series as I like to watch many of my favorite Web shows on my iPod or AppleTV. BUT let’s remember that Dr. Horrible, though it was on iTunes, WASN’T available on all video sites. In fact, it was on only a few and is still widely deemed a success.

    I also agree that the ad component will be critical too. I have seen the first two episodes in a preview and did not find the ads “ham handed.” In fact, like Tim Todd said, the advertisers were integrated pretty seamlessly and inoffensively so far.

    And finally, I don’t think anyone loses street cred by rooting for this show to succeed. Joss Whedon produces for “OldTeeVee” and everyone rooted for Dr. Horrible to succeed. What’s more, for better or worse, NOT ALL brand advertisers are comfortable yet advertising in online video. If shows like Gemini Division are successful then more advertisers will come on board to the medium and they will start signing up to sponsor the independent Web series too. And that will be good for everyone. In this case a rising tide lifts all ships, so the more successes there are online the greater the chance sponsors come on board which means there’s a greater chance we can all make a decent living with our online video projects.

    Oh and Michael, I agree — the show should be downloadable. I do like watching videos downloaded to iTunes as well as streaming video. I just don’t like watching videos on the web where I have to download a new player for them.

  12. “It reminds me, not pleasantly, of all those cd-rom games of the mid-90s.” Exactly my thoughts Geoff. Even with big name (and let’s not forget talented) actors, if you’re producing a show that has the full power of a network behind it, then it better look really good. If you’re doing a futuristic sci-fi story, then its got to look better than what I saw on the trailer. It looks so low budget that it pulls you out of the story. Even though its pretty good, its not good enough for the general public or myself to accept. There’s nothing wrong with old media. There’s still a place for it. And I’d still rather watch “old media” on the new medium of the internet than watch the “new media” at all. But I’d also still rather watch LOST on an hdtv from my couch than on my laptop in my office chair. Note to major networks: New Media DOES NOT equal cheap production. CheapER, yes, but only to a point.

  13. Lucy & Ricky

    Wow NTV you surprise me. You’re rooting for these guys? Have you seen the resume’s of the principals behind the company that produces this show? It’s the same people that have shoveled crap down our throats for the last 25 years on network TV.

    Old school media – new media matrix.

    Buyer beware.

  14. I was able to view a prescreening of the first two episodes. The ad brand integration was pretty much seamless. Even if I had something to selectively filter out the brands, I wouldn’t want to. It really added to the show and made it that much more real. Rather than interrupting the viewing experience, it actually added realism and immersion to the show. Very nice. A pleasant experience.

    I had concerns about the trailers (they seemed a little flat to me). The webisodes were different. There was an almost immediate emotional connection. Anna (Rosario Dawson) shares who she is and holds nothing back. Wrapped up in this are her emotions and the events that stir them up. She pours out her heart on her PDA and it is just like she is talking to you personally.

    After viewing the first two episodes, there was a conference call with Brent Friedman, fans, bloggers, and media. I review the experience at my blog. Also, have some links to other blogs reviewing the same experience which I will update.

    Tim Todd

  15. You mentioned on a recent TWiM that you only like to watch streaming video. Personally, I prefer to download everything.

    While I don’t mind watching the occasional YouTube video on my computer, if I really care about something I prefer to watch it on my television by transcoding it over to my TiVo. Or on occasion, watching it on my iPod Touch.

    Something that is only available on the web is simply not interesting to me.

  16. This may be more of a litmus test for the types and intensities of advertisement formats deployed, rather than a comprehensive evaluation of the larger upfront market for financing the production and distribution of online media content.

    Will there be embedded content with selectable flash objects that jump to buy-now pop-up windows? … endless visual and audible streams of product and brand placement?

    How will acceptance of Gemini Division’s new media marketing be captured and measured?

    Let’s not just look at what advertising components are over-bearing in this series, but also think hard about what approaches have yet to be given any decent test in the upfront market, and let’s get a wider discussion going that engages both sponsors and producers.

  17. I don’t think that New Media needs Old Media to succeed on our turf for us to grow. I think that Old Media can have success in New Media and that those successes can have profound short term benefits for us. Long term, however – New Media is here to stay and nothing can stop that trend. It’s more about demography than anything else. As television’s population ages and shrinks (and for that matter and possibly more importantly as similar demographic dynamics occur within the ranks of Media Executives) the more apparent the need will be for Media entities to be in New Media spaces and MOST importantly for them to see ALL media as one coherent spectrum. We’re in a transition state, waiting for the world to change as the song says. (This will probably be the last US Presidential election where the US electorate could even concieve that we can nominate a Presidential candidate that doesn’t know how to use a computer, for instance). Institutions behave short term, usually, and only think quarter to quarter (I’ve worked on Wall Street, I’ve seen it). Such short term thinking has no effect at stopping long term trends. One’s decision to bury one’s head in the sand has no bearing on the rising tide…


  18. geoffgresh

    I was all ready to be pumped for this, being a fan of both Rosario Dawson and web video. And then I watched the videos on the site.

    Gulp. It reminds me, not pleasantly, of all those cd-rom games of the mid-90s. This all looks uncomfortably close to a cut scene from Wing Commander. The all green screen approach only really works when you’ve got a budget for it (see 300, Sin City, the Star Wars prequels). This has an undeniably cheap feeling to it, which I’m willing to accept in low-budget independent web video, but not in the show that’s supposed to be the savior of mainstream web series. I’m still gonna give it a chance, but I’m a little worried.

    At least they got Dave Klein to DP it. Mr. Klein has been Kevin Smith’s go-to cinematographer, but I wonder if he’s in over his head here. In the video interview with him on the site, he even looked a little disgruntled about being hired to basically light green screens.

    I guess this is one of those “wait and see” types of things.

  19. theshadowfan

    While that may be true, their website sucks. If the series isn’t available on other video sites, I can’t see the series succeeding. Finding the video you want takes 3 pages. Simplifying this process encourages new visitors to actually watch the series and not leave the website in frustration.

  20. Michael

    According to the network formula “Dr. Horrible” would never have gotten made. While there was some star power, the show was a quirky musical (not a lot of them on TV today).

    To state that the ongoing interest of old media in new media projects lies with the Gemini Division reminds me of why I disdain the majority of Old Media projects – lack of creativity, lack of vision, unwillingness to take chances.

    I just hope Gemini Division is not just Old Media in the New Media space.

    Oh, let’s not forget that the show may rise and fall, not on it’s plot, star power (though Rosario Dawson is a major babe) but how ham-handed the studio is about its advertising. Are we going to be forced to watch a half-hour show with 10 minutes of commercials? Will I be able to download it or must I deal with crappy streaming. These are just as important as any other consideration in the New Media space.

    Just my two cents