When Ellen DeGeneres returns to primetime on Jan. 8 with another season of NBC’s “Ellen’s Game of Games,” it won’t be just in a TV-series format; a new companion app equipped with an augmented reality feature will allow users to play even when the show is off the air.
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It’s a reflection of the dual mindset of Michael Riley, general manager of Ellen Digital Ventures, a vast array of online properties generating over 1 billion monthly views. Since coming over from the top job at Disney’s ABC Family (now known as Freeform) cable channel over a year ago, he’s mastered the balance between DeGeneres’ TV and digital footprints.
“Part of the secret sauce of the Ellen Digital Network is tied to the show itself, that’s a real strength for us,” said Riley in the latest episode of the Variety podcast “Strictly Business.”
A big part of DeGeneres’ digital play has been bringing in other talent to topline content of their own, particularly with sponsorships attached, including Kristen Bell, who returns for a third season of “Momsplaining” along with marketer Johnson & Johnson. Discovering new talent has also been key, such as digital-native Kalen Allen, star of “OMKalen.”
The linchpin of EDN is the social reach of DeGeneres-related brands, which totals over 200 million across platforms. It’s the place where the authenticity important to her persona truly shines, according to Riley. “Two-way communication brings the authenticity much closer to the consumer, and clearly social media has been a very successful tool in order to do that,” he said.
“Strictly Business” is Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. Listen to the podcast below for the full interview, or check out previous “Strictly Business” episodes featuring Discovery CEO David Zaslav, ICM Partners agent Esther Newberg, and HBO chairman/CEO Richard Plepler. A new episode debuts each Tuesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.