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‘Katalyst HQ’ Is Facebook’s First Hit Series-Can It Be Copied?

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No, you’re not being punk’d: Ashton Kutcher has officially delivered Facebook’s first hit Web series. Since its February premiere, more than 9 million people have watched Katalyst HQ, an Office-like mocumentary that’s sponsored by Hot Pockets and promoted by Slide, a popular content-sharing app. Should other Web series copy its business model?

At an ad conference on Tuesday, Kutcher cited Katalyst‘s virality–the average viewer forwards clips to 62 friends–as proof that “branded content” can still score with fans. “When
brands are able to be showcased within Web video content in funny,
nonintrusive ways,” he told AdWeek Media, “people are happy to consume it.”

He may have a point. When 14-year-old YouTube star Fred (née Lucas Cruikshank) created funny, original ZipIt mobile videos–at least, I’m assuming they would seem funny and original if I were 14–as part of his hit Web series, more than 2 million fans tuned in. Similarly, Lisa Kudrow’s award-winning “Web Therapy videos have logged tens of thousands of plays on Lexus’ LStudio.com.

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But as NewTeeVee.com editor Liz Gannes observes, stars like Fred, Kutcher, and Kudrow–who netted sponsors before producing content–are anomalies. “If you or I
put out a Web series tomorrow, chances are it wouldn’t be seen,” she explains. “We can’t get sponsors to pay for a distribution service like Slide, which is great at helping videos go viral.”

In fairness, there are Internet video stars, such as YouTube’s Michael Buckley and Lisa Donovan, who make good money by running advertisements alongside and underneath their videos–and retaining creative freedom. But in this economy, says Gannes, working with a specific brand “is the way to make money off of online content.” The hope, she adds, is that “it won’t be the only way.”

[via Ad Week Media]

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