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Starz, Penguin Collaborate on "Amplified" E-Book for iPad

Premium cable network Starz is bringing video to Apple's iPad in an unexpected way, by teaming with book publisher Penguin Group to create a special electronic version of Ken Follett's novel "The Pillars of the Earth" which pulls content from the upcoming Starz miniseries based on the book.

The eight-hour "Pillars of the Earth" TV series, produced by Tandem Communications and featuring top actors including Donald Sutherland, Ian McShane and Rufus Sewell, premieres this Friday, July 23. Penguin's Amplified Edition for the iPad, which is available today, July 20 for $12.99, includes 34 short videos, artwork and original music from the series. A broader "Pillars of the Earth" app for the iPad features more even more video, including over an hour of behind-the-scenes footage. 

The Amplified Edition offers an array of interactive features designed to enhance the experience of reading the epic novel, which is set in 12th century England. Most noteworthy is a character tree, depicted in a virtual stained glass window, which grows as characters are introduced in the book and makes it easier to understand the relationships. 

The concept behind the Amplified Edition is to allow Starz viewers to read the Follett novel in tandem with watching the series, says Marc DeBevoise, SVP of digital media, business development and strategy for Starz. As such, the e-book is continually updated with new video and other features as the corresponding segments in the eight-part series air on Starz, but not before. 

"The really cool thing is we're not spoiling anything," says DeBevoise. "You don't have the full app until the end of the series." 

According to DeBevoise, Starz approached Penguin about three months ago with the idea of doing something special for the iPad based on "The Pillars of the Earth," and a small team comprised of executives from both companies collaborated to produce the final Amplified Edition, with the help of outside design firms. A version for the iPhone and iPod Touch will be available later this week. 

DeBevoise won't disclose the financial terms of the collaboration, saying only that Starz and Penguin have a partnership and that Starz's main goal was to promote the series, particularly to consumers who have yet to read the book. He said that Starz's financial investment in developing the special e-book was not overly significant, and that such collaborations are a "repeatable model" if the "Pillars of the Earth" e-book proves successful. 

"It isn't millions of dollars of development," he says. "The toughest part is figuring out what you want to do. You can't pick your 10 favorite clips and say, ‘Hey, we're done.' You have to figure it all out together." 

Besides the character tree and contextual video and still images, other interactive features of the Amplified Edition include: 

  • Ken Follett's Multimedia Diary, giving the author's on-set impressions of the process of bringing "The Pillars of the Earth" from page to screen.
  • Behind-the-scenes insights into the making of the event series, looking at how the filmmakers captured Follett's vision and created the medieval world of "The Pillars of the Earth," including interviews with the actors, director and producers.  
  • A "Listening Lounge" with music - including hymns, soundtrack themes, and battlefield scene scores - from the Starz Originals series.

"The Amplified Edition is the next step in Penguin Group's ongoing efforts to take advantage of new technology to bring writers to readers in ways they have never experienced before," said Molly Barton, Director of Business Development for Penguin Group USA in a statement. "We are delighted to bring fans this thoughtful and exciting blend of imagery and artistry inspired by master storyteller Ken Follett."