Make It Work: Vogue Launches Reality Show

If the medium is the message, what's the meaning behind a magazine creating an Internet reality show that is really just a lengthy advertisement?

Hoping to cash in on advertising dollars leaving print and moving to the Internet, Vogue magazine and marketing company IMG next month will launch a 12-episode online series called "Model.Live" that will offer viewers an inside look at the modeling industry and potentially offer advertisers much-coveted young viewers.

Mostly sponsored by the clothing company Express, the show will be posted on several video Web sites to maximize viewership and incorporate social networking and online shopping components, according to Thomas Florio, senior vice president and publishing director of Vogue Group.

"If you look at programs like 'Ugly Betty,' 'America's Next Top Model' and 'Project Runway,' it is clear that people want to watch video about fashion," Florio said. "We looked at people's desire for this content and the success of online video sites like YouTube and realized there was the potential there to combine fashion and online video."

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Online video is the fastest growing advertising medium, with compound annual growth estimated to increase 72 percent, or about $72 billion by 2012, according to Shar VanBoskirk, a digital media analyst at Forrester Research.

Model.Live will be one of the most expensive online video ventures ever, costing around $250,000 an episode. That's nearly 55 times what marketers spent on an average online video in 2007, according to Forrester Research, but less than an episode of TV.

"An episode of cable television would cost $300,000, so it's a fraction of that," Florio said. "Everyone is saying, 'Video, video, video.' But we're not just putting up video on our Web site. This isn't just a make-a-Web site thing. We're aware that video can be watched in multiple places, on a variety of sites, on your Xbox, on all the new flat screens. We've created a broadband TV channel and a social network, not a Web site with video."

As first reported by the Wall Street Journal, sources close to the deal said Express would pay seven figures to be the show's primary sponsor. Models will be provided Express clothing but, in keeping with the show's cinema-verite style, will not be forced to wear it. Viewers will be able to buy those Express items featured on the show.

The protagonists of the program are three relative newcomers represented by IMG and selected for their "mix of backgrounds, ethnicity, stories and aspirations," said Olivier Gers, global head of digital media at IMG.

The show will follow Austria Alcantara, 16, from the Dominican Republic; Cato Van Ee, a 19-year-old and Dutch woman; and Madeline Kragh, a 20-year-old American, as they travel the world between IMG-produced fashion weeks in New York, Paris and Milan, and audition for jobs.

If the medium is the message, what's the meaning behind a magazine creating an Internet reality show that is really just a lengthy advertisement?

Hoping to cash in on advertising dollars leaving print and moving to the Internet, Vogue magazine and marketing company IMG next month will launch a 12-episode online series called "Model.Live" that will offer viewers an inside look at the modeling industry and potentially offer advertisers much-coveted young viewers.

Mostly sponsored by the clothing company Express, the show will be posted on several video Web sites to maximize viewership and incorporate social networking and online shopping components, according to Thomas Florio, senior vice president and publishing director of Vogue Group.

"If you look at programs like 'Ugly Betty,' 'America's Next Top Model' and 'Project Runway,' it is clear that people want to watch video about fashion," Florio said. "We looked at people's desire for this content and the success of online video sites like YouTube and realized there was the potential there to combine fashion and online video."

Online video is the fastest growing advertising medium, with compound annual growth estimated to increase 72 percent, or about $72 billion by 2012, according to Shar VanBoskirk, a digital media analyst at Forrester Research.

Model.Live will be one of the most expensive online video ventures ever, costing around $250,000 an episode. That's nearly 55 times what marketers spent on an average online video in 2007, according to Forrester Research, but less than an episode of TV.

"An episode of cable television would cost $300,000, so it's a fraction of that," Florio said. "Everyone is saying, 'Video, video, video.' But we're not just putting up video on our Web site. This isn't just a make-a-Web site thing. We're aware that video can be watched in multiple places, on a variety of sites, on your Xbox, on all the new flat screens. We've created a broadband TV channel and a social network, not a Web site with video."

As first reported by the Wall Street Journal, sources close to the deal said Express would pay seven figures to be the show's primary sponsor. Models will be provided Express clothing but, in keeping with the show's cinema-verite style, will not be forced to wear it. Viewers will be able to buy those Express items featured on the show.

The protagonists of the program are three relative newcomers represented by IMG and selected for their "mix of backgrounds, ethnicity, stories and aspirations," said Olivier Gers, global head of digital media at IMG.

The show will follow Austria Alcantara, 16, from the Dominican Republic; Cato Van Ee, a 19-year-old and Dutch woman; and Madeline Kragh, a 20-year-old American, as they travel the world between IMG-produced fashion weeks in New York, Paris and Milan, and audition for jobs.

"We don't know whether they'll be booked for shows or successful at all. There is an element of the unknown, which makes it more real than a typical reality show," said Gers. "It is not really a 'reality show.' We don't have a good character and a bad character. There is no winner who gets to be on the cover of Vogue. It's more journalistic. We will have to see what happens."

Analysts are divided on whether a reality show is good idea for Vogue. On the one hand, there is money to be made in online video. On the other hand, many companies have regretted Internet ventures that strayed too far from what they are best known for.

"If customers want a continuation of content, this is a good fit," said Forrester's VanBoskirk. "Vogue readers are used to 90 percent ads, so if they want to watch video online, this could be a great experience."

VanBoskirk said Vogue readers trust the Vogue brand on fashion. Because the Model.Live is so fashion-based and not an obscure offshoot, the show could potentially do well.

"Vogue magazine is image-focused," Van Boskirk said. "It's pictures of models and clothing. My hunch is the show will also be image-focused. Readers trust Vogue to tell them what is fashionable, and the show will be another way to do that.

"People are going online more and more for video," Van Boskirk added. "They are creating content and they are watching it. Companies see that the viewers are there, and now they're creating professional content, which leads to more viewers who create more of their own content, which leads to more professional content. It's a spiral."

Joseph Jaffe, president and chief interrupter for Crayon, a new media marketing company, questioned the potential success of the show and the motives behind Express's decision to sponsor a program in which the models are not even required to wear its clothing.

"The hallways of the Internet are littered with the graves of companies that have tried similar efforts," said Jaffe, who pointed to Anheuser-Busch's failed video Web site Bud.Tv. "Most companies are not good at creating original programming because they're not in the original programming business."

Sprite similarly failed to create a community around its brand last year when it launched Sprite Yard, a mobile social networking site.

"The only — and I mean the only — happy ending here is for a home run in terms of unprecedented, compelling and cutting edge content, of which this does not appear to represent," said Jaffe. "How on earth can this be expected to compete with 'Project Runway' or 'America's Next Top Model?'"

"All in all, this seems like a lose-lose proposition (the only winner is the production company) for publisher and marketer. Express should have considered a litany of more viable alternatives," he said.

The companies will have to wait until Aug. 19 when the first eight-minute episode premieres to see if Jaffe's right or wrong. In addition to appearing on Vogue.tv, it will also be posted to video sites hulu.com, veoh.com, and video networking site bebo.com

For Kim Fine, a 23-year-old from Chicago, the meeting of Vogue, a trusted name in fashion, and anything related to reality shows sounds like a pretty good idea.

"I read Vogue. I watch 'Top Model' and 'Project Runway.' I watch anything about fashion and beauty. Vogue has been around for decades and is trusted around the world," she said.

"I can't afford anything in the magazine, but I like what they're selling."