Earlier this week, Keith Olbermann landed at Current TV to host a one-hour weeknight program. But Current TV isn’t done making noise just yet. On Friday, the cable channel will premiere its new social media series, Bar Karma.
The series is the brainchild of renowned game creator Will Wright (The Sims and Sims City) and partner Albie Hecht of Worldwide Biggies (founder of Spike TV and former president of Nickelodeon Entertainment). Together, they have created the world’s first community-developed TV series. “It’s a series where the interactive online community influences and develops aspects of the show: story lines, challenges, characters, personalities and music,” said Dave Cohn, executive in charge of Bar Karma.
“I pitched this idea to several networks. They mostly laughed me out of the building,” said Wright during a live chat hosted by fancast.com. “That’s when I decided it must be worth doing.”
At a social media event on Tuesday at Hearst Interactive Media, Wright said his concept originally came from observing what players were doing with storytelling in The Sims. Amazed at how much time and effort they were spending creating and sharing stories, he wondered if he could apply the same concept to TV.
That's when Wright collaborated with Worldwide Biggies, an original multimedia outlet owned by Albie Hecht and Current TV, to develop the trans-media properties of the show. “They all embraced the idea with no hesitation,” said Cohn. But not without running into challenges like finding the best way to engage the community and turn that into a professional product. Wright found the solution in his StoryMaker Engine, which allows viewers to decide the creative direction of Bar Karma.
About nine months ago, the team created a beta community of a few hundred people. Today, that group consists of over 2,000 online contributors. “Bar Karma is possibly a new model for developing TV. It could be a big aspect of the way media is created in the future,” said Cohn. “This show is a step forward to give people more access to the show. The possibilities are endless.”
Current TV, led by former Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt, was created in 2005. The channel is currently available in 60 million homes in the U.S., a little more than half of the nation's TV homes.
The show has lined up three large advertisers—AT&T, Mazda and AmEx—which will be integrated into the show through ads, as well as online challenges and apps to push the show forward. Bar Karma premieres Friday, Feb. 11 at 10 p.m. on Current TV.
When asked about Bar Karma's future, Cohn said, “We’ll see. The response is good. We’re confident our viewership will be strong. But it’s still too early to tell.”