There’s a new teen series being shot on Lincoln Road that caters to a digital generation with a social-media obsession and a smartphone glued to one hand.
But that’s not where the story ends, said creator Eric Foster White, a 1983 University of Miami graduate and Grammy-nominated producer, songwriter and musician who has worked with Whitney Houston, Britney Spears and The Backstreet Boys.
The HitStreak storyline continues throughout the day through scripted Instagram “instasodes,” text-message “textasodes,” and ways for fans to interact with the cast and each other on the ShowMobile app.
HitStreak videos have had 46 million YouTube views since their October 2013 debut, White said. The ShowMobile app has nearly 250,000 downloads and more than four million views. About 85 percent of the app’s users are 25 and younger, and 80 percent are female. Users check in about six times a day.
Cast members are Noah Schnacky, 17, of Orlando, whose credits include the sitcom How I Met Your Mother and In 60 on Disney XD; Crystal Shannon, 16, of Miami, who has been featured in community-theater productions in Fort Lauderdale and Miami; Brian Inerfeld, 14, of Davie, who made the top 10 in a Kidz Bop nationwide talent search; and Mariangeli Collado, 11, of Pembroke Pines, known for her cover of Katy Perry’s Roar, with 22 million YouTube views. Univision star Chiqui Delgado plays their manager.
Season one’s 14 episodes told the story of how the kids saved the studio from being closed. Season two moved the storyline from the kids doing YouTube covers of popular songs to writing their own music. Season three, set to debut this summer, will follow the kids as they move to original music and live shows.
“It’s working because we’re one of the few format producers who, instead of using social media to drive kids back in front of the TV or do things they’ve clearly abandoned, we’ve created a format that exactly matches their behavior,” White said.
As a parent of a teenage girl, he empathizes with parents frustrated with kids spending time on phones all day long.
“But it’s also reality. So we’ve created a show that tells a story throughout the day. So when you get up in the morning, there’s a story. When you get home from school, the story is advanced, and when you’re done with your homework at night, the story moves along,” White said. “So 21 times a week, the story is moving, as opposed to one video episode, one time a week.”
An episode might cliff-hang to an “instasode,” or scripted Instagram, or to text messages that fans receive through the app, he said. Viewers also get to weigh in on the story, voting on where Crystal and her boyfriend go on a date or what shirt Noah wears in a video. “In one episode, Noah has a girlfriend that the other cast members don’t really like, but they don’t know how to tell him. So he’s texting his girlfriend. You see the text [through the app], but the other cast members don’t,” White said.
Because of the app’s interactivity, ShowMobile was built to comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA. “We’re building a brand that we want to be seen as a trusted, family-safe brand,” White said.
Interactions on ShowMobile earn you stars that you can use to buy virtual gifts for cast members or friends. “What’s interesting, for example, is if Crystal is having a bad day, you see an uptick in people buying her virtual roses,” White said. “It’s a fun and engaging way to communicate.”
White said he took his time auditioning to find the right cast. “One of the biggest criteria was that they would be able to walk into a room unaccompanied and open their mouths as singers and have people go ‘wow,’ ” he said. “All four of them easily meet that test. I would have signed any one of them during my record label days.”
Cast member Crystal Shannon said that despite the short, three- to four-minute format of the episodes, she hasn’t had trouble developing her character. Part of it, she said, is because it’s so true to her own life. “My character is extremely close to me personally, so it has been easy to channel her,” she said.
Though some of the social media engagement is scripted, Crystal and other cast members also do some personal posting while staying in character. Crystal said she checks in at least a couple of times a day to read comments and reply to fans’ posts.
“There are so many beautiful comments. They really make my day,” she said. “Actually, my favorite thing to see is when I’ve inspired someone to do something in their life, like help a friend or family member.”
Crystal said she sees how a mobile show would appeal to teens. “I think kids don’t spend a lot of time at home — they’re out and about living amazing lives, and they’re constantly on their phones, even when they’re not supposed to be,” she said. “It’s easy and accessible. … Personally, I am on my phone 100 times more than I watch TV.”
ShowMobile’s technology company is Denver-based, but White said Miami was a good fit for its production studio.
“The infrastructure for production is really robust there, and it’s a glamorous location,” he said. “There’s a Latin flavor to some of our storytelling and cast, and there’s a depth of music resources there that made it seem like a great place to set the show.”
White said that while the app incorporates social media, it’s only one facet. “The utilitarian function of ShowMobile is not to be a social network. It’s a distribution platform for made-for-mobile series.”
While HitStreak is its flagship show, other “channels” are being added. Teen pop star Austin Mahone’s channel was added in April. Future channels are in the works.
By year’s end, White sees ShowMobile with maybe a dozen channels targeting this demographic with family-friendly content.
“With a fan base that’s crossing between them and engaging with cast members, it’s really a neat kind of ecosystem,” he said.