In the Web video world, there’s constant debate over whether the industry will ever see a true breakout “hit”—or whether it really needs one. Well, the debate is over because the big hit already happened right under the industry’s nose, and it wasn’t on YouTube or Hulu. Instead, Yahoo’s Burning Love is officially a breakout.
Season 1 of the show—a smart spoof of ABC’s The Bachelor—has attracted 11 million unique viewers since its debut last June. If there are questions as to whether new CEO Marissa Mayer is committed to the media business, they should probably be erased.
The show, produced by Paramount Insurge Pictures and Ben Stiller’s Red Hour Digital, has been renewed for two seasons (unheard of in Web video), with Season 2 due to kick off Feb. 14. And to further affirm the show’s breakout status, Season 1 is set to air on E! on Feb. 25.
So cue the flood of TV dollars, right? Yes, but from just one agency. PHD has locked up sponsorship opportunities for Burning Love’s next two seasons, knockoffs of The Bachelorette and Bachelor Pad.
“There’s no question that Burning Love is a hit by any standard, Web or TV,” said Erin McPherson, Yahoo’s vp and head of video programming and originals. “Its viewer numbers are right up there with record-breaking numbers in cable, like [History’s] Hatfields & McCoys.”
McPherson noted that last June, “Burning Love” was the No. 1 search term driving to Yahoo, other than Yahoo Mail. “The great thing is, throughout the show we saw a sustained viewership and even some binge viewing. And now going to E! is a watershed moment.”
Backed by Stiller, Burning Love is the brainchild of actor Ken Marino and his wife Erica Oyama, a comedy writer behind projects such as Children's Hospital. In Season 1, Marino played a fireman “ready to settle down…with a stranger.” Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen all made cameos. “This was always conceived to be on a Web show. This talent wants to play in different spaces, and the online world is a way to test different roles,” said Amy Powell, president, Paramount Digital Entertainment.
The talent even used their social media platforms to promote the show; Powell said that her team saw a sustained life spurred by the actors’ Facebook and Twitter presence. "Social really kept the show going. Someone could forward me episode four, I see that it's funny and then go back to the begriming."
Paramount and Yahoo launched Burning Love last year with no official sponsors. But when the partners met with PHD last October during Advertising Week, “We said, ‘Take it off the table; we want to take the whole thing,’” recalled PHD CEO Monica Karo.
Going forward, PHD clients including HBO, Foot Locker, Safeway and Lord & Taylor will run ads alongside the show, per Kelley Elizabeth Train, PHD’s U.S. director, digital investment. Plus the lead character in Season 2 will be an avid user of Breathe Right strips. And in Season 3 the fireman will frequently use Tums to quell his meatball-driven indigestion.
With that kind of advertiser support, Yahoo might want to stick with originals. “Yahoo has real scale, a promotional machine, broader demos and more women than even YouTube,” said Ritu Trivedi, svp digital strategy and partnerships, SMG, who championed the fact that Burning Love wasn't going to be altered for TV, like the former Microsoft Web series In The Motherhood was when it was adapted by ABC. "This could be a space where Yahoo really shows us the way."
It's interesting to note that Burning Love's success occurred primarily on Yahoo Screen, the company's own video destination hub. Could Yahoo have attracted even more viewers by distributing the show with a partner like YouTube, Hulu or Netflix? It's hard to say. Yahoo Screen's audience peaked at 17 million unique users in June when Love debuted, but its audience has hovered between 12 and 7 million uniques over the past few months, per comScore (interestingly, season one is unavailable on Yahoo Screen at the moment, E! is likely looking to build up interest in the show before it airs on TV).
It's a fair question to ask whether Yahoo will want to stick with Screen given that the strategy dates back several CEOs ago. McPherson didn't say whether or not Screen would remain the center of the portal's video strategy, only that her goal was to achieve more scale. She also promised lots more comedy at this year’s Yahoo NewFront.
“We really want to develop a brand identity with young taste maker comedy," said McPherson. "We are remaining committed to this space. Marissa’s been extremely supportive.”