Warner Bros. has become the latest Hollywood studio to experiment with appisodes, a new category of entertainment that prompts viewers to tap, flick and shake their way through a TV episode.
Rather than release the "Tom and Jerry" holiday special on iTunes as a typical download, Warner Bros. packaged the cat-and-mouse duo's quest to save Christmas into an app that became available Friday for $5.99.
The app-based episode plays as it normally would with sights and sounds matching the DVD version. But then as Tom prepares a letter for Santa, the viewer must help him find a stamp. To keep the narrative going, the viewer taps the stamp and the story rolls on. There's dozens of other user-powered moments throughout the story, including firing mixer blades, embracing Rudolph and fixing toys. They stretch a 22-minute cartoon into more than hour.
Walt Disney, DreamWorks Animation and Nickelodeon have all found success with appisodes. In the case of Nickelodeon's "Dora the Explorer" series, more people are downloading an appisode for $6.99 than are downloading the corresponding TV episode for $1.99, according to Plumzi, the Palo Alto start-up that built the "Dora" and "Tom and Jerry" appisodes.
FOR THE RECORD
Dec. 15, 8:26 a.m.: This article states that more people were downloading a "Dora the Explorer" appisode than a corresponding TV episode, according to Plumzi. The company later said it didn't have exact data on episode downloads. Plumzi also later said that it planned to make dozens, rather than a dozen, new appisodes next year.
The "Dora" experience has intrigued enough people to make it one of the top paid apps on the iPad. In fact, the price of the "Dora" app was increased as demand surged.
"We're not typically involved helping characters move through the story, but that's not the way it needs to be," Plumzi Chief Executive Guillaume Cohen said about TV viewing. "On tablets and smartphones especially, there's an expectation to touch and interact with things."
Children are spending so much time with mobile devices that Warner Bros., like the other studios, wanted to provide an experience that would stack up against the millions of other entertainment options available in people's palms.
"We trust and hope it will successful," said Attila Gazdag, general manager of Warner's direct-to-consumer digital unit. "We see this as a new category with a lot of potential."
Plumzi required about eight weeks to plug the giant video file, soundtrack and other assets of "Tom and Jerry: Santa's Little Helpers" into its technology and produce an appisode. If the first run works, Warner's "Scooby-Doo" and "Looney Tunes" franchises could be next in line, Gazdag said. "Tom and Jerry" went first in part because of the special DVD release earlier this fall.
Every great story makes for an addicting appisode, Cohen said. In brief testing, the appisode seemed to fulfill that promise.
Plumzi expects to make a dozen appisodes next year, Cohen said. It's possible that appisodes could work for live-action shows, as opposed to just animated ones, he said. But the show would have to be shot from the beginning in a way that interactivity could be built in down the road. Movies, however, are probably too long to make appisodes any time soon.
Plumzi, which splits appisode revenue with the studios, has received venture capital from Disney, Turner Broadcasting, Fuji TV, and Japanese telecommunications provider KDDI. It's in the midst of another fundraising effort and has already received more capital than it had planned to accept because of strong interest, Cohen said.
Disney, which develops Disney Junior Appisodes internally, started in 2012 with an episode of "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse." A warm reception has led Disney to bring four other shows on board.
Warner's "Tom and Jerry: Santa's Little Helpers" appisode is available worldwide in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Japanese. An Android version is expected to launch Dec. 18.