Viewpoint Vet Puts Product Placement into Original Web Series

PersonalScreen Media is holding discussions with a number of TV networks, hoping to strike a distribution deal for its female-focused original Web drama, “In Men We Trust.” The show, which consists of a series of seven-minute video episodes, features interactive content and product placement, but no overt advertising.

PersonalScreen is headed by former Viewpoint President and CEO Jay Amato and former broadcast journalist Michael Salort. “After coming out of Viewpoint and looking at pre-roll and banner ads, I feel like there’s got to be a way to get people to enjoy advertising as a part of their entertainment, to be a little more integrated,” Amato told ClickZ News.

“In Men We Trust” is a big-city drama about single women in the vein of “Sex and the City.” As each episode runs, the video player allows users to get more information, both about the products featured therein and about the characters. As video plays, a dialogue bubble appears on the right hand of the video window, providing, for example, information about a restaurant in which the characters are dining. Viewers can also occasionally access extra video to view “inner thoughts” of the characters. Users are able to email interactive content to friends or save it into a wish list for later reference.

So far, the company has only integrated clothing and restaurants into “In Men We Trust,” but it has ambitions to tackle other verticals as it develops future series. Amato said the original deals were struck on a revenue-share basis, so PersonalScreen will get a cut of the dough if viewers click-through to buy a dress, for example. But Amato said the company plans to add a CPM element to deals in the future.

“We had less than a month to sell advertisers on a concept that they weren’t clear on exactly,” said Amato, explaining why the company’s first series featured so few product integrations. “We actually have a lot of advertisers that are interested in subsequent shows that couldn’t move fast enough for this one.”

So far, there’s no mechanism to alert viewers as to which content elements are paid placements, and which are not. Amato says the company will look at ways of making the commercial relationships transparent.

For distribution, PersonalScreen anticipates striking a deal with the Web arm of a broadcast or cable television firm, or potentially working with a Web-only publisher of original content.

PersonalScreen says it intends to make the content available for iPods, but Amato acknowledges that interactive features, and the ability to measure, would be impossible on those formats. Still, the company is making a promotional trailer for the series available for the iPod, hoping to generate interest in “In Men We Trust.” More attractive right now are platforms such as PSPs and cellular phones, which can operate with network connections.

“In Men We Trust” was shot on digital video, with production costs running just under $400,000. The director of photography used 35 millimeter lenses on a video camera in an effort to give it a “film feel,” said Amato.

“One of the big issues right now, and it all remains to be seen, is what is the level of quality that the audience is going to expect if they are going to move from television to the Web,” he said. “We thought that the quality really needed to be high if people were going to really spend time on the Web.”

The company has two other programs, a “dramedy” and a reality TV show, in development, but it won’t start production until it secures distribution for “In Men We Trust.”

PersonalScreen hopes to strike such a deal and get “In Men We Trust” online by mid-May. Initial plans are for a new episode to be posted every week.

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