Brands send reality star ‘Around the World For Free’ in real-time web series

In advance of realscreen's first Branded Entertainment Forum in New York City this October, we're spotlighting various noteworthy branded factual projects. Today, realscreen talks to the team behind CBS Interactive's real-time web series Around the World for Free.
August 26, 2010

In advance of realscreen‘s first Branded Entertainment Forum in New York City this October, we’re spotlighting various noteworthy branded factual projects. Here, realscreen talks to the team behind CBS Interactive’s real-time web series Around the World for Free.

On a treacherously windy and cold August day two weeks ago, veteran reality show star Jeff Schroeder made the four-hour trek to the top of Mt. Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain. Halfway to the summit his AT&T cellphone rang in what CBS Interactive executive Joe Ferreira calls one of the ‘all-time great product integrations’. Schroeder’s girlfriend Jordan was on the line from North Carolina. She was checking in with the former Big Brother and Amazing Race contestant, who was climbing the mountain as the star of the real-time series Around The World For Free.

Now in its second season, the show – which is unfolding live online – follows Schroeder and cameraman/director Zsolt Luka as they traverse the globe relying on wits, the kindness of strangers and two major brands. Traditionally, advertisers prefer to sponsor scripted or pre-shot unscripted content they can easily control, but CBS Interactive convinced American Airlines and telecom giant AT&T to buy in to the live show by incorporating their services seamlessly into its narrative: AT&T provided Schroeder with the phone and American offered domestic flights.

‘We bounced around a number of different potential partners and we landed on two huge ones with AT&T and American,’ says Ferreira, CBS Interactive’s SVP, network liaison and original content. ‘There are a large number of big agencies that have branded entertainment areas and know what they’re doing in this space. They’ve gone through the experimental phases and now we’re really starting to say, ‘Hey, there’s a business here and what can we do next?”

Branding is also incorporated into the show’s interactive map that the audience uses to follow Schroeder, and on the video streams and pre-rolls.

The series’ creators are Amazing Race 2 winner Alexander Boylan and producer Burton Roberts of Santa Monica-based Around the World Productions, also a former cast member of Survivor: Pearl Islands. In 2007, they self-produced and self-financed the first season starring Boylan. For the second season, the partners inked a deal with CBS Interactive, where execs saw a sustainable property and picked it up as 50 webisodes airing over 100 days.

Boylan and Roberts conceived the series as a real-time travel show with branded sponsorships in mind from the get-go. Without brands, they say, web series such as Around the World would be impossible to produce with the level of quality viewers have come to expect from network television.

‘When we were pitching this for the first go-round, we had that vision out of the box,’ says Boylan. ‘Everyone liked the idea, but I don’t think they’d ever seen anything like it. So it was hard to wrap their heads around it and get the money to pull off a production like this.’

‘From day one we made it really ad-friendly and sponsor-friendly as well as sticking to our guns with what we wanted to do with a creative standpoint,’ adds Roberts.

Though he wouldn’t talk specific numbers Ferreira says Around the World For Free‘s budget falls on the low end of the average $5,000 to $15,000 per minute budget for this type of reality program. ‘The fact that he’s traveling for free doesn’t lessen the production costs,’ he says. ‘But it does help us in terms of getting him to various places from time to time.’

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