KatalystHQ Tries Subtler Branding and Wider Distribution for Season 2

Ashton Kutcher’s behind-the-scenes reality show KatalystHQ returned to the web for a second season this week. Season two will still have that Flipcam aesthetic, star employees of Kutcher’s production company Katalyst Media, feature celebrity cameos from his buddies like Gary Busey, and be primarily distributed through Slide‘s Facebook application FunSpace.

However, Slide and Katalyst have replaced sponsor Cheetos with Nestle Hot Pockets, and are making two significant changes. One, the show will try to make sponsor integration more natural this time around. “It had possibly become too commercial,” Slide director of business development Jared Fliesler told us this week. “Sometimes entire storylines were constructed around Cheetos as a product.” He mentioned one particular premise of stopping an annoying DJ from playing by foisting a bag of Cheetos on him.

Audiences showed their lack of enthusiasm for overly branded content by sharing it much less often than other story-driven episodes, such as a particularly viral bit about an over-the-top office romance, Fliesler said. “Pre-rolls and post-rolls could communicate a brand message in more comfortable way.” So that’s what Katalyst is doing this season, with Nestle this time around (Cheetos was happy with the campaign but shifted its budget elsewhere, according to Fliesler). The Hot Pockets campaign is worth between $500,000 and $1,000,000, and more than the Cheetos campaign, according to Slide. Given KatalystHQ’s low production values and the fact that its actors all, by definition, have day jobs, that’s a pretty fantastic financial situation for a web series.

KatalystHQ‘s first season was only viewable by Facebook users who installed the FunSpace app. That did limit its audience — something we’d thought was an unnecessary handicap when the show first came out — but Slide can also give the series more promotion than on the broader web and target its audience of 250 million Facebook users. While companies aren’t releasing viewership data, they say Facebook users posted KatalystHQ content more than 8 million times, and shared each episode with an average of 65 of their Facebook friends. That last figure boggles the mind, but Fliesler says FunSpace users just love to share, and maintained that Slide doesn’t pay them or force them to share content.

This season will be distributed primarily through FunSpace, but at Nestle’s request it will also be posted on Hot Pockets’ site eatfreely.org, as well as Dailymotion, Blinkx, Ebaumsworld, National Lampoons, YouTube, blip.TV, Sevenload, Veoh, Viddler, Vimeo, Revver, MySpace, Yahoo and Break — though I wasn’t able to find it yet on some of those portals.

That superdistribution spray approach is in some ways the opposite direction of where we’re seeing the industry going (see Chris’ recent feature story – sub required), but it seems like an improvement on making a show available only to logged-in users of a certain social network application. Fliesler said the wider distribution is in keeping with Nestle’s message for the campaign — that people can eat Hot Pockets wherever and whenever it’s convenient for them.