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Chernin Group Mulls Second Season for Social-Media Show @SummerBreak

Despite challenges - like getting new Samsung phones to teens about to head to a quarry for a swim - program holds appeal for advertisers seeking to tempt new-media auds

The summer may not be over for @SummerBreak, the reality program that played out on social media rather than TV and  was hailed as a grand experiment in the future of media.

Chernin Group, the media company led by News Corp. vet Peter Chernin, is interested in producing a second season of the recently completed program, which required followers to view the antics of a group of recent high-school graduates enjoying a last summer fling via Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr.

“We would love to make a second season, and we would love to continue our relationship with AT&T,” said Billy Parks, veep of digital production and programming at the Chernin Group, as well as an exec producer and co-creator of “@SummerBreak.” The telecom giant contributed to production costs of the series and sponsored it as well.

Keeping the program going suggests there is a viable audience for non-traditional content – one that advertisers can verify and reach in a cost-effective manner. With traditional couch-potatoes hopping to new venues to enjoy video entertainment, marketer interest in Twitter and the like is intensifying. The question is whether the smaller audiences and narrower window of engagement is enough to intrigue the McDonald’s and Unilever of the world.

The viewer numbers behind @SummerBreak have intrigued AT&T. According to data provided by the company, consumers viewed @SummerBreak content 644 million times by accessing Twitter feeds of the show, the sponsor, the cast, influencers affiliated with the show and sponsored hashtags; Tumblr; YouTube channels; AT&T’s Facebook page; advertising around the show; and social-media conversations. Fans of the program made approximately 10.4 milion comments, shares, and likes across social media, the company said, while conversation around the show grew at a clip of about 24% each week it was one.

“Engagement was really strong,” said David Christopher, chief marketing officer of AT&T Mobility. The program was “really in many ways a live experiment. With anything that’s more or less live, you’ve got some risk, but I think we were really pleased with it and we would definitely like to do more of these types of things.” He declined to say whether AT&T would sponsor a new @SummerBreak cycle.

To be sure, the numbers behind @SummerBreak mean less to advertisers at present than traditional measures such as Nielsen ratings or comScore Web views. But the program’s performance may be viewed as critical to a legion of media companies and marketers clamoring to figure out how to talk to an audience increasingly shoving its faces in a Samsung phone or Apple iPad.

AT&T has tested these venues in the recent past. In June of last year, the telecom company and its ad agency, BBDO, launched a video series called “Daybreak” across two web sites, a smart phone app and online films, said David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer of BBDO North America. The “show,” for lack of a better word, was an extension of the now-defunct Fox drama “Touch,” and featured elements that tied back to that complex program, a creation of Tim Kring, known for his time on NBC’s “Heroes.”

“It’s a mobile world,” said Christopher, who expects technology to continue to remodel the manner in which a consumer accesses entertainment and information.

While new digital programs tend to aggregate audiences who view them as they see fit, rather than attracting a single mass like a TV show mgiht, producing the content introduces new wrinkles into the traditional formula. BBDO had to get new Samsung Galaxy S 4 Active phones into the cast’s hands when it became apparent they were planning to go to a quarry for swimming and relaxation, said Courtney Crimmins, an account director at BBDO; the phones are designed to withstand some contact with water.

Meanwhile, producers found they underestimated their audience’s appetite for the programming, said Parks. “They kept asking for longer and longer episodes.” At the start, @SummerBreak episodes lasted one to two minutes during the week and three to six minutes on weekends, but fans demand raised the length to four minutes daily and between 10 minutes and 20 minutes on weekends, he said. Cast members were trained not only in how to react to social-media comments about them and sent to them – Parks said the kids were told to ignore “haters” – but also in how to work the phones that would be placed in their hands because of the AT&T deal.

Yet grappling with challenges that happen “on the fly” may become the new normal as once-staid TV viewers grow more comfortable with offering feedback. “The audience let us know which way to take the story, which made it very challenging,” said Parks. “It’s much easier to create the story in the edit room three months later” after filming stops.

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