It all began with an online phenomenon known as Seth on Survival – a web series, blog and app that has been dishing out monster fighting advice to kids since September 2009. Hosted by charismatic ‘Seth Greening,’ kids continue to be invited into his world of surviviology:
“Seth on Survival is the helpiest site dedicated to your ongoing survival and the ultimate destruction or at least suppression of your most annoying enemies. Join us for practical supernatural survival tips, tricks, tools, controversies and true-life supernatural survival stories.”
In this issue of From Search to Screen, I invite you to share the journey of Seth, his collaborators and the highly engaged community of SOS kids that led to the recent release of the werewolf spinoff about living the Lupine Life.
Canadian Web Series Pioneer
When Seth on Survival launched in the fall of 2009 the world of webisode series was just starting to pick up some momentum. Home Internet connections were finally getting fast enough to be able to carry video without too much frustrating buffering. The International Academy of Web Television (IAWTV) was created and held its first awards show, the Streamys in March of 2009 (at which Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog cleaned up and where SOS went on to be nominated in 2010 for the Best Mobile Experience). The third season of Felicia Day’s The Guild had just premiered in August and The Annoying Orange was about to launch its first episode on YouTube in October. In Canada, Vuguru was about to partner with Rogers Media to produce upwards of 30 new web shows a year. SOS launched against this background as an experiment in this new kind of storytelling.
Finding an Audience
One of the biggest challenges for SOS was the target audience. Seth appealed to tweens and younger kids and without a television network or huge marketing budget, it was hard to reach these potential fans. This age group was also not on social networks in the way teenagers and adults were, meaning grassroots DIY social media marketing was not going to reach them. The key to finding this audience was when the SOS companion app, the Monstrometer, was added to iTunes (it was the 50,000th app added – iTunes now boasts over 700,000 apps as of September 2012). Kids LOVED the app. And they loved to tell their friends about it and scan them to discover what kind of a monster they were. The app ended up growing the audience for the web series and website through viral word-of-mouth that actually happened offline. In five months the website had ‘saved’ 100,000 lives (received 100,000 visits). At the year and a half mark that number reached one million and nine months later it was two million.
A Complete Storyworld
SOS is so much more than the original web series (in fact this is perhaps the smallest part). It is, by the most common definition, a true transmedia experience. Seth’s story is told over the five webisodes, the Monstrometer app, supplemental websites like the Zombie Actors Guild, an early SOS Twitter feed and, most importantly, through the website, blog and discussion forum where a highly engaged and committed group of fans lives. 65% of the traffic to the website is made of repeat visitors who come over and over again to interact with Seth and share their stories with each other.
“More, More, More!!”
But it still isn’t enough. The kids keep on wanting more – more content, more engagement with their favourite surviviologist and more of the world he inhabits. SOS collaborators Torin Stefanson and Teri Armitage were inspired by the conversations of the kids on the site and also saw from the metrics data on the website that werewolves were a hot topic. And so the idea for My Lupine Life was born, expanding the storyworld and transmedia experience of SOS even further with this lycanthropic spinoff.
The Birth of Louis Pine
Accessing Independent Production Fund money and the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit, a healthy web series budget was put together to shoot My Lupine Life in Saskatchewan (the home stomping ground of Torin and Teri). It cost roughly $4,000 per minute (although not all minutes were created equal with over a quarter of the budget being spent on one effects heavy episode). It increases the SOS storyworld by 13 webisodes, an additional website rich in werewolf mythology (launched August 2012) and a second app (which has just launched in the iTunes App Store).
To Web Series or Not to Web Series?
‘Seth,’ Torin and Teri have built an amazing world where “there are more supernatural threats to your survival than at any time in recent memory. Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves, Leprechauns, Yeti, Kraken – the list goes on.” The most fulfilling part has been the amazing engagement of the fans and their generosity as collaborators in helping to create, sustain and build the world of Seth. Would they do it again? Probably. But perhaps now that web series and transmedia experiences are maturing, there may be opportunities in the world of branded entertainment or new content delivery mechanisms (like gaming platforms) that would enable the SOS team to enjoy the fun more and minimize the struggle.
Editors Note: Some of the statistics above were updated on November 9, 2012 and if you want to enjoy Louis Pine’s story right now you can watch below:
What Do You Think?
Have you had experience with marketing a webseries online? Did you find similar or different digital marketing challenges as those experienced by the SOS and My Lupine Life team? What were the results? I’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts, ideas, questions below or send them to me at annelise (at) veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
Or revisit the previous issue: Why “The Good Wife” Shouldn’t Hate SEO (And Neither Should You)