MEDIA GUARDIAN: MSN launches interactive online sci-fi drama

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12 Jan 2009

MSN today revealed an ambitious interactive online drama, partnering with Big Brother producer Endemol on an exclusive five-week science fiction series that claims to be the next generation in online TV.

Kirill stars Gladiators and Pirates of the Caribbean actor David Schofield as a besieged blogger locked in a bleak, futuristic and sinister world and involved in a plot to save the planet.

The storyline is woven into MSN’s interactive tools, including the social networking site Spaces, its instant messenger tool Live Search, and features developed using the development platform Silverlight. Visitors to MSN’s site need to download Silverlight to watch the drama.

Co-produced by short-form video specialists Pure Grass Films, the Kirill story has been seeded through “secret” blogs for two of the characters: level-headed scientist Stuart and cynical journalist Vivienne Villars, played by Little Britain and Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason actor Vee Vimolmal.

MSN UK will run two three-minute episodes of Kirill each week for five weeks, starting today.

Pasa Mustafa, head of Endemol’s digital studios, said a staff of nearly 50 people had worked on Kirill for six months.

“We’re in the same game – to push the medium further. Everyone on the team felt it was very important to place someone well known in Kirill, which is why we chose David Schofield,” Mustafa said.

Peter Bale, executive producer of MSN UK, said the series had higher production values than previous online dramas that have relied more on a user-generated content feel.

“This is a full-on, high quality experience. We want to create a brand here, not throwaway content. Everyone is trying to define this genre so we’re going to experiment with a bunch of things. It’s a question of creativity and we’re just taking a plain old risk,” Bale added.

Bale said the project is supported by sponsorship and pre-roll advertising but added that experimenting with the medium was more important that producing a profitable series. He hopes the sci-fi series will attract the same audience as coverage of the particle physics experiments at Cern.

He declined to comment on the cost of the drama but said it represented a “significant commitment” and a “chunky part” of MSN UK’s editorial budget.

“It could succeed or fail – there’s no guarantee – but we’re echoing the interest of the community and trying to build a model behind it,” Bale added.