Peter Bale, Microsoft's Executive Producer of the UK's Online Service Group, has spoken exclusively to TechRadar about the company's ambitious new web series, Kirill, a show which launched online today.
Bale revealed to TechRadar that while he is deeply impressed with Kirill, he does have to be realistic about the project. "We must be prepared for it to fail," says Bale about the venture that is being produced by Endemol.
"It is very hard for big corporations to fund things like Kirill. And it's not cheap either. I think Endemol and Microsoft have decided to take a risk on it and hope it flies."
Putting the web-based show into context, Bale tells us: "If we were in the TV industry, we would be doing pilots like this all the time. People on the web have to take the same sort of risks."
Kirill is a 10-episode online show that revolves round an environmental disaster on Earth caused by the Large Hadron Collider.
The show has been given its own spin-off MSN web page, which is looking to entice those with a keen interest in science fiction. "While the website has a videogame look and feel," says Bale, "the show itself is kind of Torchwood meets David Attenborough, because of its environmental theme."
Kirill may be a standalone sci-fi drama, but Microsoft is using it to promote its online assets, such as MSN.
But Bale is adamant that the episodes should not be seen as one giant piece of product placement: "The product placement in the show is not heavy handed at all," explains Bale. While PCs are used, you won't see Kirill pulling his hand up to reveal an Omega watch, or anything like that.
"It's more about a creative execution, where we show that MSN is very serious about original content and about video."
And it's not just the show that shows off Microsoft's creativity, its homepage has been built using the company's Silverlight software, acting as something of a showcase for the company.
Produced by Endemol
To settle Microsoft's nerves about the project, Endemol, the producers of Big Brother, were drafted in.
"Effectively we have partnered with Endemol for the pilot of Kirill because both of us think it can go much bigger. We are taking a risk on it with the pilot, because it is a very new format and an intriguing and dark proposition editorially. However, we think it is going to make people sit up and take a lot of notice," notes Bale.
"When I watch the finished article, I can see the investment that Endemol has made creatively and also the investment my own team has made in it – both creatively and in terms of technology."
In fact, for Bale and his team the whole thing has been a 'learning experience'. "This is something that is a big risk for Microsoft, as we have no history of doing content of this type, so it is an important learning experience for us. Having Endemol as a partner has been extremely helpful."
One of the big things about Kirill being online is audience participation. The show is an interactive experience, where viewers can become part of the world.
"We worked out a way with Endemol where viewers can interact with the characters and the story," says Bale.
"While they don't have the capacity to influence the course of the drama, they can be part of the story, converse about it, and have things like their Messenger to look like Kirill. There are even downloads of wallpaper for Vista and things like that.
"Because it is dark, moody and quite serious, we are thinking it will go quite well through the blogosphere."
You can find the first episode of Kirill at http://kirill.uk.msn.com. Don't worry if you are a late bloomer to the show, as Microsoft is archiving the episodes.
"It doesn't really matter if we haven't gone full steam ahead by the first episode, as you can come back and watch all the previous episodes," says Bale.
"We are not afraid that people won't come back if they miss an episode as they will all be archived, so can pick up the story at any time."
And what about the show itself? "Kirill is a slow-burner. Each episode is quite mysterious and does require close watching.
"We think that having each episode the same length as a song is about right, but we will learn a lot from that."
In fact it's the show's audience that Microsoft is hoping to learn the most from, as Bale explains: "We are hoping that the audience for Kirill give us so much feedback that we can improve on it next time. Saying that, I am convinced it is going to work, but I am obviously quite close to the project."