TORONTO - Preteens looking to check out the new sitcom "Totally Amp'd!" will have to turn on an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch — and not a TV — to watch it.
In what's being billed as a worldwide first — although that distinction is difficult to definitively prove — Shaftesbury and Smokebomb Entertainment have produced a new scripted TV show specifically to be screened inside an app.
"We've been toying for a while with the idea of asking ourselves the question: 'What would a TV series look like as an app?'" said executive producer Daniel Dales.
"It's obviously a very hot space and we love the platform because of the interactivity and the touchscreen, (which) really gives users an ability to interact in new ways."
Each "appisode" of "Totally Amp'd!" — which is about five young singers given a chance to form a pop group — is about 10 minutes long, less than half the typical runtime of a TV sitcom.
"Given this is for the kids' space, we wanted to match the consumption habits of that audience and we feel we've done that, with shorter-form episodic content," Dales said, adding that the target audience for the show is eight- to 12-year-old viewers.
The app also includes interactive bonus material that ties into scenes from the various episodes. There's a music studio that allows users to sing along karaoke-style to songs from the show, or remix the tunes by fading the levels of various instruments in and out of the sound mix. A video editor lets users act as a director and edit the fictional band's music videos. And users can also play fashion consultant and dress up the characters in different outfits.
The app is free and includes the first episode. If viewers are hooked, they need to pay $4.99 — or more likely their parents need to pay $4.99 — to unlock the rest of the episodes.
"We had a lot of internal discussions (about pricing), part of what we did is ... asked, 'OK, what does somebody pay for a TV episode off iTunes? What would someone pay for each of the individual activities?' and then we came up with a price based on that," Dales said.
The producers were able to sign up some recognizable young actors for "Totally Amp'd!" — including Ashley Leggat ("Life with Derek") and Cristine Prosperi ("Degrassi: The Next Generation") — but it wasn't entirely easy, said Dales.
"It's a bit of an uphill battle to get talent attached to these sorts of projects because people aren't quite sure what it is and obviously the budgets aren't the same size as television," he said, but noted that the concept made sense to the young actors.
"They all immediately got it. They were all excited about the idea of doing something for a new platform that would be seen in different ways and would be a world first."
Depending on how well the show does, a second season may be ordered. But in the meantime, the team is working on a sci-fi series that will play in a similar format and is excited about further development in the space.
"We think it's a whole new category in the app store," Dales said.