Refinery29 to Produce Interactive Series Funded by Eko (EXCLUSIVE)

Refinery29 has been bitten by the “Bandersnatch” bug.

The millennial-female-focused digital media and entertainment company inked a pact with Eko, an interactive-video platform developer whose backers include Walmart, to produce several “choose-your-own-adventure”-style series based on Refinery29 content properties.

The companies have started development on their first project: an interactive scripted adaptation of Refinery29’s popular “Money Diaries” personal-finance column, podcast, and book. They’re also planning unscripted shows based on travel series “60 Second Cities” and “Sweet Digs,” which takes a look at the habitats of millennial women. The interactive series will be available on Refinery29’s website and promoted via social channels, with the first targeted for release by the end of 2019.

Eko is funding the Refinery29 projects as part of its initiative to create showcase-worthy interactive-video projects, after Walmart invested $250 million in Eko to create a joint venture that is producing a range of interactive content. That said, R29 and Eko are hoping to also sell ads and sponsorships the series. Under the terms of the pact, the companies will split any ad revenue but Eko retains ownership of the interactive assets.

Eko, previously called Interlude, has been in the interactive-video business since 2010. But interest in the category has been sparked with Netflix’s push into the space, catching attention with “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” and prepping an interactive special for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

“This is an amazing tool,” said Amy Emmerich, Refinery29’s president and chief content officer. “For a storyteller, being able to build different timelines and change the character based on user input — that’s awesome.”

In Refinery29’s interactive adaptation of “Money Diaries,” users will be able to make spending choices on behalf the characters. “It’s you, the viewer, having your own ideas about how to manage and spend money,” said Ivy Sheibar, VP of business development at Eko.

First launched in 2016 launch, “Money Diaries” has become Refinery29’s top financial editorial series with 7 million unique visitors in 2018 and the No. 2 most-searched content on the website. Last fall, the company released a book — “Money Diaries: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Your Finances… And Everyone Else’s,” penned by Refinery29’s Lindsey Stanberry — and also has a Money Diaries podcast, which just finished its first season.

For Emmerich, a big goal was to learn how to use the technology and effectively tell branching-structure narratives. She recalled seeing a demo from Eko co-founder/CEO Yoni Bloch. “He showed me an interactive shopping prototype – with a woman changing behind a foldable, filmy screen. No one does that!” But she was impressed with the tech, adding that Bloch “appreciated how unapologetically female we are.”

Eko is working with a range of content producers in different genres at digital media, film, TV and video game companies, Sheibar said, to “strategically choose people most passionate about where this medium can go.” She added, “What a lot of our partners need is someone to be their interactive sherpa. You want to make sure what you create isn’t just a gimmick.”

In working with Eko’s platform, Refinery29 also is aiming enlist women creators as part of its female-empowerment mission.

Eko also has projects in the works with Vudu (Walmart’s video-streaming unit) and the Duplass Brothers, and is in production with digital studio FBE on “Epic Night,” a scripted college-party adventure. Eko also has worked with BuzzFeed to produce interactive recipes for its Tasty brand and other features. Past projects have included an interactive series based on MGM’s “War Games” and an interactive music video for Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Eko also has developed a native interactive-ad format, dubbed Sparks, which presents different content to viewers based on the choices they select.

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