The interactive-video platform company debuted four original scripted series Thursday (Nov. 21). Two of them — EffinFunny’s “Wizard School Dropout” (pictured above), set in a Harry Potter-esque world, and “Timeline” from Olive Bridge Entertainment, about a high school girl whose phone can magically see future social-media posts — include accompanying interactive features that are designed to spur viewers to go buy stuff on Walmart’s website. Eko’s two other new shows are collegiate romantic comedy “Epic Night” from FBE and reality-show/murder-mystery spoof “The Coop” from Funny Or Die.
“We are proud of the range of voices, talent and storytelling on display in our fall slate,” said Eko CEO Yoni Bloch. “With each show, creators pull viewers in by giving them the power to choose what happens next, ultimately giving them a greater stake in the stories they watch.”
Walmart is one of Eko’s big backers: The retailing giant invested $250 million last year to form a content joint venture with the New York-based company.
Eko has run Walmart ads with other shows, such as “Clothes Call,” in which fashion editor Nina Garcia provides feedback on your apparel picks. Now it’s lighting up Sparks (Eko’s name for its interactive ad units) for scripted series. Those are designed to be “consumer-friendly ad experiences” that springboard off the themes of the original series, said Alex Bird, associate creative director at Eko.
“It’s the first step toward the deep link between interactive entertainment and commerce,” Bird said. “We’re presenting a companion piece of narrative content, so you can shop those choices. That’s the innovation we’re going for.”
Nested inside the 12-episode “Wizard School Dropout” fantasy comedy is a Spark that is its own self-contained scripted interactive show, also produced by EffinFunny: “The Sidequests of Gwendolyn Griffin,” in which a 20-something woman (played by Rachel Leigh Moore) needs your help to decorate her new apartment and order food and drink for a housewarming party. (Naturally, the shopping choices are all from Walmart.) An end screen that’s shown to viewers who complete the “Sidequests” story directs them to shop on walmart.com.
Here’s a snippet of what “The Sidequests of Gwendolyn Griffin” looks like, with an option to return to the main “Wizard School Dropout” series:
In addition, “Timeline” will include a simpler “Survey Spark” that lets viewers select a fashion style and be prompted to visit Walmart to buy products.
How well Eko is able to convert viewers into shoppers remains to be seen. The company is banking on the fact that — by the very nature of the format — users must be actively engaged in the programming.
And Eko’s originals are designed to reward repeat viewing: All told, the four new interactive shows have 598,617 possible storylines, according to the company. Eko also will not repeatedly prompt users to engage with the Sparks ad content if they’ve already interacted with them, Bird said.
Here’s a description of the shows:
“Wizard School Dropout”
After dropping out of a wizarding academy, Andy (Kosha Patel, “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce,” “White Famous”) tries to make it in the real world — but she has no discernible human skills. She can’t hold a job, and has 30 days to pay her back rent, lest she lose a piece of her soul to her landlord. Viewers control Andy’s magical abilities and dialogue choices.
“Wizard School Dropout,” comprising 12 episodes (8-12 minutes each), is produced by EffinFunny, directed by Sandeep Parikh (“That Moment When,” “The Guild”), and created and written by Max Gladstone. The series stars Patel alongside Julie Zhan, Naomi Grossman, Michael Minto and Fahim Anwar.
When Dee (Rachel Crow, “Schooled,” “The X-Factor”) finds that her phone hasn’t mysteriously gained the ability to see into the future, she might just have a chance of surviving high school. Viewers choose how Dee feels and acts (represented via emoji) to figure out why her best friend is giving her the silent treatment and how she can get closer to her crush. Along the way, Dee discovers a sinister mystery stalking the halls of North Adams River High School.
The series comprises eight episodes (5-10 minutes each). Written and created by Neal Dusedau, directed by Kimmy Gatewood (Netflix’s “GLOW”), and executive produced by Scott S. Kramer (“That Moment When”) for Will Gluck’s Olive Bridge Entertainment.
“Timeline” also features Principal Anderson (Donald Faison, “Scrubs”), current and ex-besties Sara (Sammi Hanratty, “Shameless”) and Marti (Genevieve Hannelius, “American Vandal,” “Dog With a Blog”), Sara’s nerdy boyfriend Taylor (Luke Eisner, “Tall Girl”), and her mom (Ryan Michelle Bathé, “This Is Us,” “First Wives Club”).
A whodunnit about a fictional, long-running TV reality show — in which the viewer solves the mystery of which cast member murdered one of their housemates on New Year’s Eve, across 15 episodes (each 7-10 minutes long). Viewers play as members of the studio audience, tasked with uncovering clues and interrogating cast members.
Produced by Funny Or Die, written and created by Nora Kirkpatrick (“The Office,” Hulu’s “Door No. 1”). “The Coop” stars Brian Huskey (“Bob’s Burgers”, “Veep”), Deborah Baker Jr. (“Stan Against Evil”), Jordan Gavaris (“Orphan Black”), Lou Wilson (“American Vandal”), Oliver Cooper (“Red Oaks”), Travis Mills (“Flaked”), Tory Devon Smith (“The Get Down”), Jen Tullock (“Disengaged”) and Katie Wee (“Shrill”).
At a crossroads after their college graduation, three friends set out to make the most of their last night as undergrads. The viewer plays as Martin, attempting to balance his desire to charm his crush, Jess, and comfort his brokenhearted best friend — all amid a quest to get into an exclusive music festival. Produced by Benny and Rafi Fine’s FBE.
“Epic Night” stars Jacob Latimore (“The Chi,” “Maze Runner”) as Martin alongside Sasha Pieterse (“Pretty Little Liars,” “Inherent Vice”), Karan Brar (“Pacific Rim: Uprising,” “Jessie”) and Jessica Sula (“Split,” “Scream”).
Directed by Andrew Rhymer (“Plus One”), produced by JP Quicquaro (“Adam Ruins Everything”) and Lisa Steen (“Sundowners”), and written by Scarlett Bermingham (“Big Boy Pants”) and Sierra Katow (“Last Comic Standing”). The series covers over 120 minutes of total runtime, with 12 possible endings and over 156,240 permutations of possible story paths. The project is a marquee production by FBE’s Interactive Content Lab; this summer, FBE and Eko extended their initial partnership to finance more than 12 interactive-format pilots with different narrative and story styles.