Clip Culture Gets Contagious

Online soaps are popping up all over these days, but this morning's debut of Kate Modern comes with pedigree papers. The United Kingdom-based clip series, backed by the Bebo social networking site, is actually a spinoff of the popular Lonelygirl15 series.

Yes, that Lonelygirl.

Over the past year, the LG15 production team has uploaded more than 230 installments in the series. Each clip usually runs no longer than a couple of minutes. The series became a hit on Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) YouTube, where it remains the second most active channel with nearly 100,000 subscribers.

The LG15 link is a blessing, for the most part. The association is helping Kate Modern attract media attention, not to mention an established base in diehard LG15 fans who are likely to give the new series a shot.

The one drawback is that, well, everyone knows it's fictional from the start. The Lonelygirl15 series spent its first few months dipped in candy-coated mystique. Were the uploads authentic, clever video blog entries from a quirky home-schooled teenager and her devoted pal? The slick production values begged otherwise, but no one was claiming that the series was scripted through the initial three months.

The truth was unearthed in September of last year. Some duped fans felt betrayed at first, but the publicity helped catapult the show to an even broader audience.

Along came Bebo
The new show won't be a carbon copy of the original. The story lines may intertwine occasionally, but Kate Modern is aiming to pan out as a stand-alone series. Its decision to go with a social networking site -- instead of a video-sharing website -- as a hub indicates that this is more Prom Queen than Lonelygirl15.

Prom Queen is the Michael Eisner-backed series that concluded its inaugural run last month on News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS  ) MySpace. The show was uploaded on various video-sharing sites, but MySpace always got the episodes a day earlier.

Bebo expects the same level of exclusivity, and it's helping finance the production. It's also willing to share the ad revenue with the Kate Modern producers.

So why Bebo? It may not be as familiar domestically as MySpace or Facebook, but the social networking site is a hit in the United Kingdom. The site generates 7 billion monthly page views, watching over a community of 34 million registered members.

The U.K. Telegraph reported that Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) was in talks to acquire Bebo for $1 billion two months ago, though that buyout chatter proved to be no more genuine than Lonelygirl15.

The social networking home is important. YouTube continues to beef up its interactive features. The LG15 team went with a standalone website to reach deeper into the fan base community. That's all well and good, but social networking architecture is built to spread popularity quickly when it's virally worthy.

Bree keeps growing up on us
The launch of Kate Modern isn't the only reason the LG15 team is in the news. The show's three creators announced over the weekend that an August 3 season finale will feature the final dozen episodes of Lonelygirl15 released in hourly installments.

Releasing 12 installments in rat-a-tat fashion is pretty ambitious for a production team that is used to putting out no more than five clips in any given week. Despite recent product placement deals from Hershey (NYSE: HSY  ) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) , this is still an online show that is being pieced together on a shoestring budget.

LG15 isn't going into months of hibernation like prime-time shows do. The second season of Lonelygirl15 starts three days later. However, with its star, Jessica Rose, finding regular television work these days, the forum chatter is that the second season may have to go on without her.

This doesn't mean that Lonelygirl15 will be renamed Alonegirl15. The show can go on without its titular star. If anything, Jessica's appearances have been limited in recent weeks as the other characters devise a plan to spare her from participating in a mysterious cult ceremony. In trying to make Bree "trait negative" - and thus genetically unable to take part in the rite -- aren't the show's cast members simply putting some other character's life in peril?

Exactly. So the obvious direction for the show would be for the remaining cast members to go around the country, foiling the cult in recruiting LG15 replacements. All they need is a cowardly Great Dane and a Mystery Machine van.

But why are we talking LG15 when it's Kate Modern's day to shine? And, perhaps more importantly from an investor's perspective, it may be Bebo's time to shine, too. Kate Modern's ties to the stateside Lonelygirl15 hit may turn many MySpace and Facebook regulars into fans of Bebo.

If so, what's Yahoo! waiting for to make a fading rumor an acquisitive reality? After losing out on Facebook, a respect-hungry Yahoo! can't afford to miss a coattails ride again.

Yahoo! is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Johnson & Johnson is an Income Investor newsletter selection. A free 30-day trial subscription to either service is waiting with your name on it.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is ready to officially classify himself as a clip culture junkie. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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