Reality producer to develop web originals

Reality-television producer RDF is launching a digital division to develop spinoff businesses from its network series as well as produce original content for Web portals.

Move is highly unusual for a production company; producers tend to leave the digital strategy to the nets.

But RDF is taking a page from Mark Burnett Prods., which produced the original series “Gold Rush” for AOL.

In some ways, in fact, it is going a step further, actually seeking coin from the new-media platforms directly.

“Digital businesses are something the networks concentrate on. But as producers, it makes sense for us to be intimately involved in steering the process with our network partners because we are so close to the creative on every level,” said RDF USA chief exec Chris Coelen.

Company has tabbed Max Benator, who has worked with the development team at RDF USA and, like Coelen, is a UTA vet, to run RDF Digital. Exec will be responsible for all Internet, mobile and emerging technology projects at the company.

Shingle’s original content will launch with a Web-only gameshow featuring the work of clothing designer Marc Ecko. RDF USA, Ecko and the Schiff Co. are aboard to produce; the portals airing the show have not yet been named.

Among the digital initiatives growing out of RDF’s network series are a subscription diet Web site for an upcoming Shaquille O’Neal weight-loss reality show on ABC (Daily Variety, March 5) and the creation of an online panel of experts for another Alphabet skein, “Wife Swap.”

RDF also has partnered with MSN for upcoming A&E series “The Two Coreys,” in which show’s stars Corey Haim and Corey Feldman will interact with viewers.

RDF already has several digital businesses in its portfolio, including an automotive site in the U.K. and Islandoo, a social networking site that began life as a series on British television and which Coelen eventually hopes to sell as a show to a U.S. network.

Nets will share in the revenue from RDF’s digital businesses, but RDF Digital hopes to assume primary responsibility for the new-media ventures.

Still, shingle could face resistance from nets, many of which want to control digital strategy themselves.

Coelen acknowledged it could be a tricky negotiation with some nets but said the critical element is to put a digital strategy in place before a show is sold to a network.

Move demonstrates that creators, and not just distributors, are looking to new media for additional coin.

And it reflects how alternative platforms are becoming not just another venue to promote shows but a source of content for traditional media.

Comedy Central is set to bow made-for-mobile series “Li’l Bush” on the network, and ABC is developing a series featuring the Geico cavemen, who began life in TV commercials.

“We want to extend shows like ‘Wife Swap’ into online and mobile, but we also really want to create properties that can exist first and foremost online and later come back to television,” Coelen said.

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