In Depth

HBO Taps Web Stars for Internet Series

HBO is leaning on a time-honored traditional TV strategy for its new Web-only series “Hooking Up,” which debuts next month with a cast of YouTube stars.

In a conversation with TelevisionWeek, Fran Shea, general manager of HBOLabs, said the premium network is looking to test whether Web video creators who have a sizable online audience can pull in strong numbers when they are paired together in a new show.

She emphasized that the show is an experiment and not slated to run on-air on HBO. But if successful, “Hooking Up” may appear on HBO on Demand.

“Everyone is looking at this to see what works,” she said.

The first two episodes premiere online Oct. 1 at and on YouTube, Metacafe and, with subsequent episodes premiering each week. The entire series is 10 episodes.

The show is set on the campus of the fictional Bask University, where the characters try to connect via their social networking, instant message and text, but wind up miscommunicating.

The show features YouTube stars Jessica Rose, Kevin Wu, Philip DeFranco, Michael Buckley, Kevin Nalty and others.

HBO hopes to learn whether the online audiences for those creators’ existing Web work will follow them when they act in a fictional show. Ms. Shea explained that in “Hooking Up” the YouTube stars won’t be playing their YouTube personas. For instance, Mr. Nalty will play a character named Professor Klein.

“I approach everything based on audience,” Ms. Shea said. “I look at the audience for [Philip DeFranco] or Michael Buckley and say, ‘Let’s do a short-form comedy with people who have a large audience,’” she explained.

The risk in the show is that many of these stars haven’t acted in the traditional sense of the word, even though they have been on camera, she added. The YouTube stars are being paid by HBO for their work in the show.

The content is not ad-supported, though HBO could earn incremental revenue from partner ads on YouTube, for instance.

(Editor: Baumann)