CBS Counts on Electric Sheep

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Broadcast television network CBS has bought into a $7 million round of financing for virtual content developer Electric Sheep, which develops properties and presences in online worlds like Linden Lab’s Second Life.

Electric Sheep has developed virtual properties for Fortune 500 companies including AOL, NBC, Viacam, and others, including several in-world creations in Second Life to promote Major League Baseball, MTV’s Laguna Beach, Showtime’s The L Word, and promotion for the movie Smokin’ Aces. Electric Sheep also developed Reuters’ Second Life in-world news bureau. Electric Sheep has previously worked with CBS in Second Life to develop The L Word‘s in-world present, and film an in-world commercial for its TV show Two and a Half Men; the company is currently working on a Star Trek-themed build.

CBS’s interest in Electric Sheep likely stems from the idea of tapping into virtual worlds as a way to market brands, products, and content to virtual audiences, a trend characterized in Second Life by in-world presences frm major brands like Mazda, IBM, and American Apparel. The idea is that as savvy consumers increasingly turn away from television and toward the Internet for entertainment, advertising needs to follow consumers’ eyeballs.

So far, in-world marketing efforts have met with limited success; while in-world locations in Second Life tend to open with some real-world fanfare, they seem to be largely ignored in-world. Virtual developers usually point out that virtual worlds are still at a very early stage—particularly Second Life, which relies on a relatively complex, building-focussed interface—but expect interest and effectiveness to increase exponentially as the technology becomes more mainstream. Electric Sheep plans to use the seed money to develop software and tools for better creating virtual worlds and presences, as well as to track in-world usage and activities to give marketers an idea what does and doesn’t work.

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