A conversation we recently had in class made me think of a YouTube account, LonelyGirl15, that made headlines in June 2006. Lonelygirl15 seemed to be an amateur video blog of an innocent, confused 16 year-old girl named Bree who often blogged of her interest in boys, her struggle with her parents, and other typical teenage angst. The online blog gave a sense of innocence that appealed to many viewers and became an instant Internet sensation.
Eventually, the content of the blog went from typical teenage problems to serious issues. For instance, the dialogue slowly gave way to her discovery that her family was secretly conducting occult practices. The drama quickly escalated when she blogged about her parents disappearing after she refused a “secret” ceremony presumably revolving around her family’s secretive cult. The young girl began to use her blog as a way to tell her audience about the clues she found and her fans developed forums so they could work together to decipher clues in hopes to discover her parents. Ultimately, viewers became suspicious of the reality of the Internet blog. Los Angeles Times reporter, Richard Rushfield, was the first to collect actual evidence found on the fake MySpace profile that was developed by the young teen. Then, a reporter for the blog, Silicon Valley Watcher, Matt Foremski, was able to use photographs to verify that Bree resembled a famous actress. On September 12, 2006, New York Times reporter, Virginia Heffernan, published an article confirming that Bree was actually New Zealand actress, graduate of New York Film Academy, Jessica Rose.Finally, the online blog was stated to be a fictional web series in September 2006 and was developed under the title The Children of Anchor Cove, created by screenwriter Mesh Flinders, filmmaker Miles Beckett, photographer Grant Steinfeld, Amanda Solomon Goodfried and Greg Goodfried. The creators had established a company known as LG15 Studios that later would become the successful media and technology company, EQAL.
According to an interview between a Los Angeles Times reporter and Goodfried, the idea behind this blog was completely developed at a karaoke-bar birthday party. At this party, creators Beckeet and Flinders met while bonding over the fact that they were both struggling with making short films in Hollywood. Flinders comments, "It was like I had found my creative mate. We spent the entire night talking about the idea, the next day we talked on the phone, and the day after that." The pair then joined forces with Goodfried, who supplied the knowledge to make the shoot happen. Also, for it’s popularity and the success, the production was extremely low-budget. Flinders says, "We did this with zero resources. Anybody could do what we did.” Later in the interview Flinders states that the sum total of the equipment they used to create this Internet sensation included, “Two desk lamps (one broken), an open window and a $130 camera."
The series debuted in June 16, 2006 and ended on August 1, 2008. As of 2008, the series has gained more than 100 million views and the videos were uploaded as frequently as four or five times a week. Lonelgirl15’s series gave way to EQAL’s next spinoff, LG15: The Resistance, which ran till December 2008. The show also encouraged multiple spin-off shows such as the 2007 British sensation, KateModern, the interactive game OpAphid and the 2009 Polish spin-off N1ckloa.
The season ended with 12 videos uploaded by the hour from 8am to 7pm. SPOILER ALERT In the last episode of the Season One finale, Bree's character is killed off by the secret organization, “The Order” during the ceremony in the season finale and rare blood was transfused into one of “The Order’s” members.
This blog also brought up an essential ethical concern. Luckily, the creators had brought a legal consultant, Kenneth Goodfeld, onto the team. In an interview Steinfield said, “We were all under N.D.A.’s. They had a lawyer involved. My first impression was like, wow, can this be legitimate? Is this ethical? I was very concerned about that in the beginning.” Moreover, Ms. Goodfried’s father-in-law, Kenneth Goodfried, a lawyer in Encino, filed to trademark “Lonelygirl15” in August. Additionally, lonelygirl15 was the first Internet series to introduce product integration. Specifically, one episode featured the characters eating and displaying Hershey's Icebreaker's Sours Gum. Furthermore, the web series received a surprising amount of praise and recognition including the Biggest Web Hit Award on WH1’s Big in ’06 Awards.
In the end, the creators turned LG15 into a multi-million dollar company. At the same time, Beckett and Goodfried were able to create a profitable digital production studio called LG15 Studios/Telegraph Ave. Productions. A 5-figure deal with Ice Breaker's gum to a 6-figure Neutrogena deal allowed the LG15 writers would incorporate these products into certain episodes. Other types of licensing deals easily turned lonelygirl15 into a profitable web video series. All in all, I found it amazing that a small internet blog turned in to such success that no one could have foreseen. On the other hand I’m not sure if the ethical disturbances outweigh the success.
Sources: Business Insider, The New York Times