Yahoo! has inked a deal with Tom Hanks’ production company Playtone and Reliance Entertainment to webcast their multi-dimensional animated series Electric City. This would be Yahoo’s first stint in original scripted content, after it launched an original comedy channel in December 2011. The announcement was made at CES, Las Vegas. Electric City will be an action, sci-fi adventure animated series featuring the voices of Tom Hanks, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chris Parnell and others. The series is based on relevant global issues and themes including energy consumption, freedom of information, crime and punishment and more.

This does appear to be the first of Reliance Entertainments’ digital efforts to see the light of day:

How The Series Is Being Showcased Online

– Non-linear navigation: users will be able to navigate the series non-linearly and learn more about the world of Electric City through a 3D interactive map which allows them to dig deeper into character back-stories, learn about the cast behind the characters and watch behind the scenes footage.
– Social integration: feeds from Facebook and Twitter updates from users watching the series will be showcased. This is pretty much par-for-course in online streams now, at least in India.
– Clips, but progressive: According to a report by The Wrap, the series will be streamed in 4-6 minute segments but can also be watched progressively.
– Languages: The series will be available in multiple languages, including French and Spanish
– Devices: the series will be available on tablets and connected TVs too.
– Community: there will be a larger “Electric City” community, the press release suggests, with casual games and other content related to the series.

Playtone and Reliance Entertainment have already shot 90 minutes of the series within a budget of $2.5 million. The report also notes that Yahoo is already in talks with three to four sponsors and expects to attract more after the announcement.

Our Take

The decision to also showcase content in a non-linear manner is an interesting one, but that will work primarily from the perspective of bringing about a deeper engagement with the viewer: the series has to be interesting enough for the viewer to want to know more and dig deeper. It’s the same as: if the movie isn’t interesting, then you’re probably not going to be interested in the behind the scenes footage in the DVD. It’s the same for casual ages based around the series as well.

I’ve always been a little skeptical about how engaging 4-6 minute clips can be, and though I’ve seen several such instances online of great scripts, to sustain that experience across an entire series will be tricky, because from a scripting point of view, you have to insert a plot point every 4-6 minutes. Given that Yahoo is a global platform, the decision to include multiple languages is also welcome, though I would be surprised if we see an Indic language voice-over, given that much of India’s Internet ecosystem targets the English speaking population.

(with inputs from Anupam Saxena)