U.K. enticing networks with ‘Dubplate’

Low-budget, interactive program creating buzz

LONDON — A low-budget, youth-oriented interactive U.K. drama is proving it’s possible to go from grassroots to global exposure without having a million-dollar marketing budget.

The team behind “Dubplate Drama,” which actually took to the streets to hand out promo fliers prior to the show’s launch, is close to inking deals to sell the format to nets in the U.S., France and a number of European territories.

The show began life in 2005 as a six-part, 15-minute episode skein about hard-scrabble lives in London’s inner-city on U.K. hybrid pubcaster Channel 4 in the unenviable 12:30 a.m. slot.

At the end of each weekly episode, viewers were able to determine the fate of lead character Dionne, played by U.K. rapper Shystie, by texting in their choice of one of two endings.

The most popular ending then dictates the direction in which the drama will unfold.

“People can see the potential immediately in their own territories,” says producer Louis Figgis, son of helmer Mike Figgis. “There’s a huge amount of people who aren’t watching TV. They’re the Internet generation and they’re simply switching off. That’s why it’s so important to have what we’re doing. People really get it. They understand the potential, they understand their own market, and what we’re doing is a reflection of the fact that these markets are pretty under-represented.”

By the end of the first series, “Dubplate Drama,” was bringing in close to half a million viewers, more than 1 million unique hits on its website, and even crashed the Sony PSP website, where viewers could download individual episodes prior to the terrestrial preem.

Co-funded by Sony and mobile phone operator 3, the show’s producers also inked deals with MTV Base and MySpace, as well as a six-figure sponsorship pact with U.K. charity National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Extra coin has meant that the budget for the series’ second season, which preemed Sept. 20, has risen to just under $1 million. For the new, 12-episode season, each installment also has been extended to half an hour.

Viewers are able to vote via a MySpace site, with producers receiving 15,000 votes a week so far as well as 200,000 visitors to the specially created online content on the site, including dedicated web-only footage.

“The key to our success has been the fact that we’re on television every night except Tuesday, on about four different channels,” Figgis says. “There are so many shows where you can email or ‘talk’ to the characters, but that level of interactivity is very flat and linear. The cross-platform ability to watch it on YouTube or MySpace as well as TV is the 360-degree commissioning that everyone’s going on about, but to an extent not managing to do.”

Adds Figgis: “Instead of it just being a commercial product, it also gives an important social message. There are really strong issues we’re dealing with, from teenage sex, pregnancy, drug taking and drive-by-shootings to depression, suicide, alcoholism and bullying.”