Interactive production company Xenophile Media and TV producers Fresh TV joined forces at a very early conception phase to develop an integrated TV and online concept for the animated, tween “reality” series Total Drama Island. Simultaneous with the launch of the series on Teletoon Canada, they launched Total Drama Island – Totally Interactive comprised of 26 weekly online games based on the challenges presented during the weekly broadcast episode of the TV series. The series was a massive hit both in Canada and in the United States on Cartoon Network where it broke ratings records for the network. The budget for the online website was $500,000, and with sales of the series and online component in multiple territories worldwide, the marketing strategy seems to be paying off for the producers and for their distributor Cake Entertainment Ltd. (UK) – in real cash returns and impressive numbers of registered users.
Distribution and Sales Partners
Distributor Cake Entertainment was involved from the beginning, and was kept up-to-date on the creative material for the interactive project and was even provided with Beta versions to demo at international content markets. Cake placed a value on a licence for the interactive component of one tenth of the value of the television licence in each territory in which the series was sold. They prepared marketing materials and one-sheets/flyers for the interactive project in their sales packages. With an impressive 70% conversion rate in Canada of Teletoon television viewers to registered users, Cake took a successful series and its interactive component to international markets and negotiated both the TV and the interactive deals with international broadcasters.
The first foreign sale of the interactive property was made by Cake to Jetix Benelux – where the TV ratings were phenomenal, followed by major sales to Cartoon Network US and Europe. Then came Jetix UK and Cartoon Network Latin America (where there were 100,000 new registered sign ups each week!) Sales continued with TV3 Catalonia (Spain) and ABC Australia. In most of these sales, in addition to the TV series, broadcasters have only licensed online rights, which means future mobile or other platform rights are still available. The term of the licence for the interactive content was the same as for the television series and after the first broadcast, some of the broadcasters have exercised the right to include the games directly within their own sites.
Despite the distribution success of the property, Xenophile emphasizes that it involved a learning experience for all involved, including distributors, producers and broadcasters due to massive TV ratings in the US, users swarmed the site after each of the first four broadcasts, crashing the servers and requiring a site overhaul and redesign. The unanticipated cost of servicing such a large user group (three million members!) needed to be shared between Fresh, Xenophile and the broadcasters. For Cake, (and distributors in general), television sales are still more lucrative and therefore more of a focus for sales teams though interactive properties such as this not only provide a compelling enhancement to distribution sales at a time when broadcasters are interested in cross-platform properties while revenues in this field are simultaneously growing – especially in the children’s sector . In the end, with Fresh TV’s financial assistance and Cake’s persistence, Total Drama Island – Totally Interactive! paid off, and total gross licence fees for the Interactive website in over 30 territories have exceeded $267,000 to date.
For broadcasters, it has been a challenge to find the internal budgets to pay for the licensing of interactive content. The TV series was the driving force and licence fees often came out of program acquisition budgets, rather than the more limited interactive department budgets. However, TDITI has proven that compelling web content is worth paying for because it generates the kind of traffic that broadcasters want!
All parties involved agree that despite some of the challenges, there is great value in the experience; they are now poised to do to it all over again – with much more knowledge and know-how!
Customization and Integration Revenues
With licensing deals in place, Xenophile negotiated separately with each broadcaster to undertake the customization, localization, integration and synchronization required, as the project involved large databases and extensive web hosting. Broadcasters were typically responsible for the initial translations and delivery of required audio files, and paid Xenophile for the integration and translation review costs, estimated at $5,000 to $7,000 per territory, for the interactive property. Some broadcasters paid additionally to have the site customized to fit directly within their browser frame and there were also issues related to COPPA compliancy in the United States to consider which necessitated further modifications to the Cartoon Network US site. Synchronization, custom uploading and testing for live launches around the world kept Xenophile staff working 24 hours a day. To promote the website, Xenophile produced an on-air promo for broadcasters. Total revenue generated by Xenophile for these activities exceeds $250,000.
To cover hosting charges, Xenophile developed a formula for clients based on expenses such as estimated hosting costs, balancing web and database servers, the need to support unprecedented numbers of simultaneous users and acceptable caps on user registrations to limit broadcasters’ exposure to unbudgeted costs in case the show was an runaway success (which it often was!). Broadcasters paid a few cents per registered user to cover the hosting costs as defined in a pricing matrix. Hosting the website for international broadcasters has generated more than $366,000 in hosting fees for Xenophile.
In all, Total Revenues to date for Total Drama Island – Totally Interactive are approximately $900,000.
There is no doubt that the international success of multi-platform interactive projects is largely dependent on the success of the television series it is associated with as was the case with Total Drama Island. The series was enormously popular on Cartoon Network US, registering the highest viewer numbers ever in its time slot. The final episode attracted an audience of one and a half million television viewers, with up to five million viewers catching repeats throughout the week. At that point, the online property had accumulated three million registered users in the US representing an unprecedented cross-over. But with success, come challenges. It is vital to remember that projects must be designed from the beginning, for big audiences and success. The hosting challenge for TDI Interactive was significant when an estimated 20,000 simultaneous users morphed overnight into 200,000 eager game players online at any one time, causing huge slowdowns across the experience and necessitating a re-design of the database. The moral of the story: engineer from the beginning for success!
The Total Drama Island interactive distribution experience has cemented Xenophile’s international reputation and they now have clients around the world.
TDI Interactive will live on for years and with that opportunity to generate future revenues. For example, a mobile game has been created, Xenophile and their partners at Fresh TV are working on being able to place ads on the generic site in the future, and the games featured in the website can be marketed individually to appropriate game and youth portals.
Total Drama Island – Totally Interactive has proven that compelling online content driven by a hit television series can be a great success domestically and internationally and that success can be translated into significant revenue.