AToMiC: Guidestones targets online and mobile users, and brands
The interactive Canadian web series has worked with brands including Samsung, Pizza Pizza and Rogers Communications.
In Canadian web series Guidestones, two college students are trying to solve the murder of a scientist with apparent connections to the builders of the true-life Guidestone monument in Elbert County, Georgia, often called America’s Stonehenge. Before long, Guidestones has the students trying to decode a global conspiracy that the web series writer and director Jay Ferguson hopes will keep viewers on the edge of their seats and engaged through all 50 episodes.
Ferguson says he worked on the Guidestones project for three years before its rollout this week, and all the while tried to create catnip for internet and mobile phone audiences.
That meant creating something that was more than just TV with an interactive component.
“You reach people on TV with a certain format, and the internet and the mobile platforms needs a new format,” he argues.
The result is a web series that combines linear episodes and interactive online content, and scripted drama with real world people and locations.
Each episode has a hidden clue, often in the form of numbers, and a cliff-hanger at the end.
“So if you Google those numbers, that will take you to seeded information on the Internet, and you can find the solution to the cliff-hanger,” Ferguson explained.
When searching online, users will discover hidden video, audio files, apps and other media to learn from clues to solve the murder mystery.
Also key to Guidestones as a distribution platform is a push notification system that allows viewers to sign-up via e-mail to receive all 50 episodes as the story unfolds in real time.
The murdered scientist isn’t the only mystery behind Guidestones, which was shot on location in Canada, the U.S. and India.
Product integration is a big part of the monetization puzzle that Ferguson says he’s looking to solve with the experimental web series that has production financing from The Independent Fund and the OMDC.
For example, the college students conduct their online sleuthing using a Samsung tablet.
It’s a fine line between corporate sponsorship and product integration that Ferguson feels he’s walked delicately.
Guidestones has little to do with Samsung or its brand name, but the Samsung tablet is obvious and displayed.
Other brands that could turn Guidestones into a profitable web series include Pizza Pizza, Karbon Clothing and Rogers Communications. For example, Trevor, the male student, talks often about attending Blue Jays games with his father. And the first episode includes a news story presented by Citytv senior anchor Gord Martineau.
“Production integration, if done cleverly, is good. Audiences can say it’s B.S., but someone has to pay for content at some point,” Ferguson says.
Guidestones also has a free mobile app. If the web series gains traction, the producers could start to charge for the app.
There’s also a web series ring tone that can be purchased, and the producers hope original music in Guidestones will also be bought as downloads.
“We’re creating our own mini-brands, and hoping that people will click on the links and buy the ring tones or songs and we can generate some revenue,” Ferguson explains.
Besides the 50-episode “push” version that launched Tuesday at Guidestones.org, Guidestones includes a 34-episode linear version to debut in the spring.
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