The Guild may be the most famous TV show that’s never been on TV. In 2007, Felicia Day, known for her role in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, began work on what they intended to be a TV pilot for a series about online gaming. When Hollywood executives didn’t understand the jokes, she joined forces with producer Kim Evey and took it to the Web, posting brief monthly episodes and funding filming from her own pocket and fan donations.
Now that the Guild’s fifth season is soon to launch, it’s widely considered a shining example of DIY video success. Day went on from the first season’s initial success to refuse to sell the show. Instead, she forged an unusual sponsorship deal with Microsoft and Sprint. The deal gives Day full creative control over her show, simply requiring that episodes premiere on Microsoft’s video properties: the Xbox Live Marketplace, the Zune Marketplace, and MSN Video.
The Guild currently has more than 60 million upload views on its YouTube channel, and that does not include statistics on DVDs sold, or episodes watched through Xbox Live and other key distribution channels.
Speaking in a keynote interview yesterday at South by Southwest Interactive, a Web conference in Austin, Texas, Day argued that her show could represent the future of brand sponsorship.
“Why pay $300,000 for an ad that people are going to avoid watching?” she said, referring to technologies such as Tivo that allow people to bypass television ads. Why not, Day said, spend half that or a quarter of that to fund a Web series, which will provide quality content that people care about, and has the potential to expand to other media? (The Guild has expanded with a comic book deal from Dark Horse).
“I do believe that people think differently about [Microsoft and Sprint] because of The Guild,” Day said.
The obvious danger is that a sponsored Web series could be perceived as an extended ad. “That’s the problem,” Day acknowledged. However, she believes that if brands find content that has a natural synergy with them and trust the creators to produce quality episodes, such a deal could be a much better investment than traditional advertising.
Day said, “Going in that direction is the more risky but the more long-term play.”