Virgin Produced flies airline channel

Partners with Red Hour, Funny or Die and others for short-form content

Richard Branson’s film and TV shingle Virgin Produced, which recently scored with “Immortals,” is taking off with its latest venture, a TV channel on airline Virgin America.

The channel is seen as the next synergistic step in the growth of the entertainment banner, which launched last year with the Bradley Cooper starrer “Limitless,” “and shows people we’re a synergistic organization and we’re not here to just make a movie,” Virgin Produced co-founder and CEO Jason Felts told Variety.

At a time when YouTube is investing considerable coin in web series, Virgin Produced is programming and producing its own slate of original short-form content, which already has started playing on Virgin America. In addition to in-house projects, the company has partnered with Ben Stiller’s Red Hour Digital; Will Ferrell, Chris Henchy, Judd Apatow and Adam McKay’s Funny or Die; Seth Green and Matthew Senreich’s Stoopid Monkey; Steven Schneider (“Paranormal Activity”) and musician will.i.am, with Virgin landing the exclusive airline rights to properties.

Others include AEG, VICE, Relativity Media and Rogue and What’s Trending. Variety also will be featured on the channel, with video footage from numerous events throughout the calendar year.

The Virgin programming is broken up into three blocks — life (music, travel lifestyle), laugh (comedy) and loud (docus, drama and shorts from emerging filmmakers) — with three to four hours of new content refreshed every month.

Each segment will last one to five minutes, similar to a web series. Longer-form programming will include docus like “Marley,” Kevin Macdonald’s feature on the life of Bob Marley.

Virgin Produced and Barry Katz also plan to produce a comedy series, “Virgin Produced: Comedy Vault,” showcasing eight new comedians that they hope to eventually take on the road to various cities as a tour.

Channel will be offered up as another platform for marketers to unspool their branded entertainment projects.

“For Virgin it’s about identifying what’s out in the marketplace and doing it our way,” Felts said. He was intrigued by the various channels YouTube is backing, but wanted to focus on fare that closely fits the Virgin brand: content that is “subversive, irreverent and socially responsible, but never preachy.”

Naturally, with Virgin Produced building a slate of more pics and TV shows — like the upcoming comedy “21 and Over,” an untitled Farrelly brothers laffer, the Oliver Stone drama “Darkhorse,” for FX, or series through its first-look deal with eOne — Virgin America will also help promote the company’s projects through red-carpet interviews at film premieres, backstage visits to sets and traditional trailers.

“We’re not going to promote movies we didn’t produce or weren’t part of,” Felts said.

But the shingle already has growth plans for the channel, looking to eventually expand it to other Virgin-backed ventures. Those include other airlines like Virgin Atlantic and V Australia, Virgin Mobile, an in-room channel inside Virgin Hotels, which will open its doors starting with a property in Chicago next year. It also could program health-related content for the company’s overseas health clubs that operate under the Virgin Active brand.

Launch of the channel isn’t timed to anything specific.

“It was just my response to tapping into this digital evolution of content,” Felts said. “You couldn’t have started this 10 years ago. With people consuming content in so many different ways, now was the time to do this.

“I have a network of screens across Virgin’s assets. When a passenger gets on a plane they’re expecting content they can relate to. And they’re expecting content that’s different from everyone else. The same is true when they check into a hotel or go to one of our health clubs.”

Altogether, company claims more than 60 million brand fans worldwide as its potential audience.

Since Virgin America launched in 2007, the airline has heavily promoted its entertainment offerings, which come in the form of the Red in-flight entertainment system, made up of live satellite TV feeds, a library of 25 on-demand movies and additional TV shows. It’s also gone after promotional pacts with HBO’s “Entourage” and DreamWorks’ “Real Steel,” and produced a short-lived reality show, “Fly Girls,” that aired on the CW.

“With the largest media library in the skies, Virgin America has become the airline of choice for entertainment fans,” said Luanne Calvert, VP of marketing at Virgin America. “The Red platform provides a breadth and quality of content that is unrivaled in the domestic skies, with a special focus on fresh television, film and music content that reflects our Virgin brand roots. Partnering with Virgin Produced to produce and distribute content for our discerning flyers was a natural choice.”