'L Word' virtual world in works

Showtime partners with Electric Sheep for Web project

Showtime has inked a deal with virtual world technology company The Electric Sheep Company to create a standalone Web-based virtual world for drama series "The L Word."

The L Word virtual world, which begins testing next month and formally launches with the debut of the series' new season in early 2009, will be the first to use Electric Sheep's new WebFlock, a Flash-based solution that eliminates the lengthy downloads and other technological barriers that have prevented some virtual worlds from attracting the mass market.

Rob Hayes, vp and general manager for Showtime Digital Media, noted "Word" did have a successful promotion last year in Second Life, but added he expects to this program to attract a much larger audience.

In addition to screenings of "Word" episodes, Hayes foresees a whirlwind of virtual activity surrounding the series. "We'll also have celebrity guests as well as speed dating events and birthday party kits," he said. "Some of these will be centered on the show and some of them will be around the lifestyles, but the goal is to find ways to extend the brand."

Though Showtime currently views virtual worlds primarily as a promotional tool, Hayes said it also considering ways to monetize this avatar-based audience going forward.

"Word" will be the first to use WebFlock, but Electric Sheep CEO Sibley Verbeck said the company is already in talks with other entertainment brands intrigued not only by a user-friendly Web-based solution, but also by the opportunity to create their own stand-alone worlds rather than run programs on existing worlds like Second Life.

"These brands want to have a relationship directly with their audience and not have to participate in a system where someone else might be advertising right along with them," Verbeck added. "We can drive hundreds of thousands or millions of people into a virtual world where they can immediately come into a virtual space and navigate around simply by loading one web page."