MsLabelled takes to the linear screen

The filming angles that work best on TV versus digital, and other lessons on making the transition from online to broadcast from producer Jay Bennett.
November 26, 2015

Canadian digital series MsLabelled is headed to linear.

Now into its second season, the Smokebomb fashionista series is being cut into interstitials to run in the commercial breaks during the broadcast premiere of Pitch Perfect on Canada’s Slice network. The series, which followed fashion designer Anna, played by actor and comedian Sarah Hennessey, attempting to track down the whereabouts of magazine intern and fashion blogger Ella, played by Rebecca Liddard, has garnered between 20,000 and 40,000 views (of largely young, professional women with an interest in fashion) per episode (which run under 10 minutes each).

The first 22-episode season run was sponsored by Schick, while the second 22-episiode season is sponsored by Tetley tea.

Slice (and its broadcast owner Shaw) has been partnered with MsLabelled since before it launched on YouTube and this past February, but this is the first time the series is hitting the linear airwaves. The movie will be followed by a 30-minute special, which will feature unseen footage from the latest season. While the show nets modest audience views (especially in comparison to Smokbomb/Shaftesbury’s other digital hit Carmilla, which garners 300,000 to 400,000 per episode) there had always been an opportunity for the content to move onto linear and Tetley tea that made the shift possible by acting as the sole sponsor to the movie.

Jay Bennett, SVP of creative and innovation for Smokebomb and its parent company, Shaftesbury, told StreamDaily that moving into a linear format has presented a number of new challenges for the producers.

Namely, while the series itself had a linear broadcast partner from the start (Shaw and Slice were came on board looking for innovative media projects to experiment with), it was always conceived as a digital-first story. As such, the series was pursued in a way that would make it most effective on digital, including having characters speak direct to camera.

“There’s something about having characters talk direct to camera which seems to go further in the digital space,” said Bennett. “Whereas, when you move to television, there are certain expectations about how things are supposed to look.”

So while the interstitials during the movie itself will be cut directly from the season two story, Bennett said the decision was made to grab extra footage (blended with scenes from season one and two) for the special in order to tie the story together in a more seamless manner. Smokebomb/Shaftesbury filmed eight new minutes of more “Sex in the City-(style) walk-and-talks, using steady cams,” to create a more cinematic TV look.

“We saw this as a great opportunity to use some TV-style storytelling techniques, so that, (for) an audience (who might) find it on TV first, it’ll be accepted as TV and won’t feel like it’s an odd creature that doesn’t belong,” he said.

The other challenge has been cutting the content in such a manner as to allow commercials, which, as a branded series, it didn’t have on digital.

The creators took lessons from an earlier digital-to-linear series, Backpackers, which Bennett said had halted cuts when it was moved onto TV.

“The challenge is taking something that created with a very specific voice and style for a digital audience and trying to put the commercial breaks in,” he said. “You need to make sure you’ve got arcs, the right buttons that drive to the commercials, etc.

“One of the lovely benefits of creating digital is that digital is allowed to be the story it needs to be for the audience it wants,” he said. “TV needs to be very conscious of serving within demographic segments (and) formats — you need your 22 minutes, four-act breaks. Digital allows you to say the episode is over when you, the producer, believe the episode should be over.”

That being said, Bennett thinks the future of digital and linear will be a blend of both, recognizing both mediums can live parallel to each other, even if they are different platforms.

“There was a belief a few years ago that digital was for mini television,” he said. “We were trying to make it look like television, only shorter (and on) less budget.

“I’ve really come around to the fact that content is content, so everything must be a fantastic story. Those will be the rules no matter (what) screen.”

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