Interactive drama shaped by viewers’ votes

Aimed at urban teenagers, Dubplate Drama built strong relationships with sponsors and enjoyed success with audiences across all its platforms

By Rosie Lavan

PROJECT TITLE: DUBPLATE DRAMA

SHORT STORY SYNOPSIS: Three season multi-platform series exploring issues affecting London teenagers and featuring leading urban music artists. Billed as the world’s first interactive drama, it allowed viewers to decide the outcomes of storylines and incorporated was available to watch on mobile phones, online, on Playstations and on terrestrial, digital and satellite TV channels.

FORMAT: Series 1: 6×11’ episodes; Series 2: 12×30’ episodes; Series 3: 2×90’ episodes

PRODUCTION COMPANIES: Dubplate Ltd

STATUS: Completed

RELEASE DATES: Series 1: November 2005; Series 2: CHECK; Series 3: July 2009

AWARDS: New Media Age Best Use of Multiple Channels Award 2008

THE PROJECT

Dubplate Drama was a multiplatform interactive drama series which allowed viewers to vote on the outcome of storylines. Livity, a specialist youth communications agency, was approached by writer and director Luke Hines with an idea for a series set around the London urban music scene. Livity’s founders, Sam Conniff and Michelle Clothier, saw an opportunity to create a series specifically for a teenage audience which could encourage them to consider and debate the issues that affect them, from knife crime and teenage pregnancy to peer pressure and relationship dilemmas.

The first series was designed to this brief. The audience was brought in on the story: each episode ended with a dilemma on which viewers were asked to vote. It was broadcast post-watershed on Channel 4 and its digital offshoot E4, and MTV1 and MTVBase. Customers of 3 Mobile could watch it on their phones and it was also available to download on Sony’s PlayStation Portable. Demand for PSP downloads was so high that the server crashed when each week’s new episode was released.

By the time series two hit screens MySpace had taken off, providing Livity with a new, more interactive way to reach its viewers. Two key sponsors came on board: the NSPCC and ChildLine. Kate Brundle, group account director at Livity and account director for series two and three of Dubplate, said the relationship allowed ChildLine to reposition itself among an older, urban audience and shake off its image as a service for white middle-class children. The option to download Dubplate to mobiles meant that ChildLine’s number went directly on to the phones of thousands of teenagers. Longer episodes in series two meant stories could be explored in greater depth. Live events and additional content, included behind-the-scenes footage, also proved popular.

Series three coincided with a spate of teenage knife crime which attracted much media attention and the story, in two 90-minute episodes with a vote in the middle, focused on a stabbing. A pre-series competition targeted aspiring MCs and the winners went on to record the bumpers which appeared at the beginning of the show.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT

From the outset, Dubplate Drama was designed to engage its clearly-defined target audience. Just before series one aired, Michelle Clothier, Livity co-founder and Dubplate executive producer, said: “We made it interactive because we want young people to talk about the various issues raised by the weekly dilemmas. Young people have less loyalty to brands and programmes than before so we wanted to use as many media as possible.”

Viewing figures for each series show good responses on all those media. Viewership for series one peaked at 450,000, with an average 5,000 mobile downloads for each episode and the weekly server crash as PSP users rushed for the latest instalment. Series two garnered more than £1 million of coverage across press, broadcast and digital media. Peak viewership for each episode climbed to an average 525,000 with a total of 700,000 views of additional content, all carrying ChildLine branding. The new MySpace page attracted more than 1 million unique views and 200,000 returning visitors. Repeats of series one and two on Channel 4 and MTVBase amounted to more than 26 hours airtime. The Spit It Out competition which preceded series three drew 111 entries in a month and 42,120 votes in the following six weeks to decide the four winners. The series earned media coverage worth more than £1.2 million, up to 500,000 viewers for each episode and a total of 720,000 views of additional content. Kate Brundle points out that the total number of people who saw and engaged with Dubplate is almost impossible to track, given the way media was shared and disseminated by users.

Livity knew its audience well and built this knowledge into Dubplate Drama. The agency includes a youth organisation of 12 to 20 year olds, based alongside staff in the London office and responsible for the quarterly magazine Live. They read early Dubplate scripts and were consulted on the characters and whether the way they spoke was accurate. Their feedback, responses from focus groups and online comments were all taken into account as the project progressed.

The success of Dubplate Drama’s user engagement drew the attention of researchers at Cranfield University. Series two featured as an exercise on the 2008 MSc in strategic marketing looking at decision making and violent behaviour in young men, and series three also featured on the MSc in an exercise looking at Dubplate as a youth engagement model.

LINKS

Dubplate Drama at Channel4.com

Dubplate Drama and Spit it Out on MySpace

TRAILERS

For series one, series two and series three

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