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Carnival Cruise Line, Thrillist Team Up for ‘Island Hoppers’ Mobile Series

 Carnival Cruise Line is creating some high-seas drama of its own.

The cruise-line operator is working with travel-and-entertainment recommendation site Thrillist to launch “Island Hoppers,” a comedy-competition series that will begin to stream via Thrillist’s Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter channels. Thanks to Discovery’s stake in Thrillist parent Group Nine, the series will also make its way to Travel Channel’s mobile app for authenticated subscribers.

The seven-episode series is hosted by actor James Van Der Beek and takes viewers along for a battle among three comics as they vie to win a gig to perform at Carnival’s on-ship Punchliner Comedy Clubs. I’m not really a host, and I’m definitely not a standup,” said Van Der Beek, in a prepared statement. “But this show is so unique I feel like that worked in our favor. As a writer and actor, I have a huge appreciation for what it takes to get up in front of a room full of strangers and make people laugh, so it was a joy to jump in and play with a group this talented and hilarious.”

“This is a way for us to really lean in and tell the story of our brand,” says Melissa Anido-Lopez, Carnival’s senior director of media strategy, planning and marketing optimization, in an interview. Traditional video ads would not let a marketer show off so many elements of its business, she says. The new series was filmed during  a recent Caribbean cruise aboard Carnival Horizon.

Omnicom Media Group’s Content Collective unit helped put the effort together in conjunction with PHD, the company’s Omnicom-owned media agency. The goal, says Jeff Fischer, managing director of the unit, was “How do we increase awareness and consideration for ‘cruise rookies’?” During the series, three competitors will take part in a cocktail-making contest and go on a bobsled ride.

The series provides the latest instance of marketers creating their own programming, part of a growing emphasis on content that dovetails with the interests of audiences for specific media outlets. The theory is that consumers will be more open to such stuff, as they are growing more able to avoid traditional advertising pitches. “This is so natural to the environment  that it doesn’t feel so overtly like branded content,” says Jody Rones, Thrillist’s chief revenue officer.

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