Education Episodes Are Made For Multiplatform Release

Here’s an unlikely
combination for
the convergence
era: a 21-episode video
series called “We The
Economy” about economic
education; packaged
for the short-attention-
span generation;
presented in multiple styles—comedies, musicals,
animation, documentaries—and released
simultaneously on broadcast, cable,
online and mobile platforms, with a theatrical
premiere thrown in. Add high-profile
performers and directors, including Emmy-and
Oscar-nominees/winners, plus funding
from billionaire Paul Allen. And establish a
business model that makes the shows free-on-demand to viewers while allowing
limited advertising.
 
Gary Arlen

Given those parameters, the producers
of “We The Economy” are ecstatic that the
shows attracted 5.2 million views during
the first three weeks of on-demand availability,
and that every segment has generated
at least 110,000 streaming sessions. That
tally represents reports from only 23 of
the 56 platforms carrying the series, so the
backers are expecting even higher viewing
levels of their mongrel series.

The initial “stick time,” or length of viewing,
has averaged seven minutes initially,
which indicates that viewers are generally
watching at least one full episode, according
to Cinelan, the New York branding/
marketing video production company that
devised the series.

MULTIPLATFORM DISTRIBUTION
“Out-of-the-gate performance has been
somewhat higher than we expected,” Karol
Martesko-Fenster, Cinelan’s managing
partner/cofounder, told TV Technology. He
cited “big numbers” via LinkedIn and Yahoo!
Connections, plus the creative ways
in which distributors such as Netflix, CBS
News, CNBC, Pivot TV, Hulu, Amazon Instant
Video, YouTube and Vimeo are offering
the presentations to their audiences.
For example, Netflix calls all 21 episodes
“Season One.”

Among the other distributors are Comcast’s
Xfinity TV, Time Warner Cable, Cox,
Verizon, BrightHouse, Mediacom, Suddenlink,
Sony’s Crackle, Apple’s iTunes, AOL’s
On Network and GooglePlay, plus specialty
film/video firms such as Snag Films
and multichannel networks such as Condé
Nast’s The Scene.

Martesko-Fenster, a long-time video impresario
behind the venture, worked with
economists and top Hollywood production
talent to create the series, which consists
of standalone segments that are each five
to eight minutes long. Nearly a dozen “advisors”
(economists, historians, academics,
journalists) are credited with supporting
the productions. Watching all 21 productions
takes a little more than two hours.

One significant factor of “We the Economy”
is its benchmark status catering to
the short-attention span of its target: young
viewers. In addition, its education and
public service status gives it a halo effect,
which Cinelan is now exploiting to take
the series to schools, libraries and other
academic venues, as well as global markets
and airline onboard programming as ancillary
outlets for the video.

The mini-movies are intended to explain
or present aspects of economics in an infotaining
style. Episode titles include “GDP
Smackdown,” “Fed Head,” “The Street” and
“Taxation Nation,” with other segments explaining
the role of government, globalization,
financial inequality along with more
basic topics, such as “What is Money?”

‘We The Economy’ poster

Each episode was created by a different
production team, albeit with occasional
overlapping actors and talent. Among the
prominent film- and videomakers taking
part are Morgan Spurlock (who spearheaded
the project via Cinelan, in which he has
a stake), Catherine Hardwicke (director of
“Twilight”), Adam McKay (“Anchorman”),
James Schamus (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon”), Oscar-winning documentary-maker
Barbara Kopple, and Adrian Grenier (actor
and producer, best known for his role in
HBO’s “Entourage” series).

The lineup also includes Chris Henchy
(“The Campaign” and “Land of the Lost”),
Jessica Yu (who has directed movies and
TV episodes including “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “West Wing”) and Bob Balaban
(a familiar character actor—“Grand
Budapest Hotel,” “Girls,” “Alpha House,”
“Seinfeld”—who also has a lengthy director/
producer resume).

“We immediately agreed to take the
normal distribution model and smash it to
pieces,” Spurlock told a Hollywood trade
publication. “No windows, no fees, just get
it to the public.” He said his major goal was
to put “these films simultaneously in front
of every American wherever they watch
content.”

TAILOR-MADE FOR FOD
On the “We The Economy” website,
Spurlock further explained the format,
especially how differently it deals with a
topic that would normally be very dry and
straightforward. The episodes are bundled
into five “chapters.”

Karol Martesko-Fenster

Martesko-Fenster points out that the
series is not a pro-bono project; all the talent
and advisors were paid via the Vulcan
funding, although he declines to reveal
the budget for the project. Distributors
are not allowed to sell and insert commercials
within any of the episodes, but some
sites—such as Snag Films—are placing ads
between segments.

Joe Cantwell, a Cinelan advisor and longtime
cable TV programming executive,
characterized the program format as “tailor-made”
for the Free On Demand category.

“We worked closely with iN Demand
to place, package and promote the series
according to each cable company’s needs
and opportunities,” Cantwell said, noting
that iN Demand has “deep experience with
independent film and FOD content.”

Social media has also played a big role
in the series debut, Martesko-Fenster said.
Many of the actors and directors used
their own Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and
other accounts to tip off their fan bases
about the show. Episodes with such talent-generated
social media promotion had
higher usage levels during the first few
weeks, according to Martesko-Fenster.

Although Martesko-Fenster declines to
disclose plans for future short-form ventures,
the apparent success of “We The
Economy” enhances the prospects for
more multiplatform, short-length series
with such high production values and
high-minded intent.

It also might pave the way for more
international options. Martesko-Fenster
said that at the theatrical premiere—a free
one-night-only showing at New York’s
Lincoln Center and at other cities where
policy- and decision-makers were invited
to see the series’ highlights—Cinelan
scored a few more deals. A German media
operator at the New York screening
followed up with an offer to carry the
shows in Germany. Similar deals are underway
for China and other countries,
says Martesko-Fenster.

“We The Economy” could become a
model for future content creation and presentation.

Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications
LLC, a research and consulting
firm. He can be reached at
www.ArlenCom.com.

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