•Programme to encourage audience participation to develop plot
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A new British teen thriller, from the makers of BBC hits Young Dracula and Tracy Beaker, will make its debut next month online instead of on television, as its producers follow their young audience who are switching off the set and focusing their attentions on the internet.
Po5t has been created by independent production house Barking Angel, founded by Joss Agnew and Mia Jupp, who have worked extensively on children's television dramas, and digital agency Worth whose previous output includes work for the government-backed youth-oriented drugs advice network Frank.
The first of six planned eight minute episodes of Po5t will appear next month and the producers are hoping to work with its teen audience to "tweak" future episodes before they come out so they can take in viewers' suggestions of how the suspense plot should evolve. Audience participation is expected to play an even greater role in the second series.
The series is part of a new breed of dramas that are being released straight to the web rather than relying on the declining youth audience on terrestrial TV. MySpace UK and Fremantle Media, the company behind The X Factor, have recently launched Freak, a new teen soap running online for 13 weeks.
The move was fired by the success of US sensation lonelygirl15, whose posting on YouTube three years ago became a cult hit. A Lonelygirl spin-off, the UK-based Kate Modern, was quickly commissioned and ran on Bebo in 2007, attracting 35m views. Since then digital production companies have increasingly expanded the format with online documentaries and reality shows such as The Gap Year. At the end of last year, the TV establishment gave the clearest sign yet that it was fully embracing the medium, with the BBC earmarking £1.3m for online drama.
The move by production companies to put dramas on the web follows huge cuts in the commissioning budgets available to traditional TV channels. It also reflects changing viewing habits.
Ofcom's annual snapshot of the UK's media and communications landscape published earlier this month showed Britons spent an average of 225 minutes a day watching TV last year, just a minute longer than in 2003, but internet usage has ballooned to 25 minutes a day from just nine minutes in 2003. The report indicated that TV reach among younger audiences, which was already lower than average, has been falling since at least 2003 as they divide their time between more media activities such as downloading music or watching TV online.
The Po5t series which throws together a group of teenagers when their lives are put in peril, stars three actors from the Young Dracula series – Clare Thomas, Ciaran Joyce and Harry Ferrier – as well as Darragh Mortell, whose credits include Tracy Beaker, and Alice Connor, who appeared in the Heath Ledger film A Knight's Tale."The way people view online is not only more immediate but more intimate and this led us to the conclusion that an internet only release would appeal to this audience who can log on and watch the series in their own time, in their own space and either on their own or with their friends," said Worth founder John Worth.
"It hasn't come as a surprise to us that even at this stage, when PO5T is yet to launch, that a buzz has been generated about it on social networking sites," added Joss Agnew. "This reflects the way its target audience – teens and young adults – are now communicating with each other."