SingTel 'Grid Girls' steal the Silverlight

Singapore telco launches site based on Microsoft's Web platform, in bid to entice viewers to stay and "interact" with the ladies accompanying Formula One cars in September.

SINGAPORE--SingTel has launched the online companion site to its Formula One (F1) Grid Girls campaign, in anticipation of its prime time reality TV show based on the 20 ladies.

The local telco is the title sponsor of the auto-racing event, to be held here from Sep. 26 to 28 this year, and hopes the site's photos and videos will entice users to watch the TV program showcasing the ladies. Dubbed the Grid Girls, the women will accompany the cars during the event.

The site, which launches a week before the show airs, puts 202 videos together on a Microsoft Silverlight platform to create a user experience SingTel hopes will be "immersive and engaging".

Peter Heng, director of corporate communications at SingTel, said in an interview with ZDNet Asia: "One of the issues with the online experience is realism... The quality of the site will help to bridge that."

Heng said the site is not merely positioned as a teaser to the show, and hopes visitors will stay on and "interact" with the Grid Girls featured.

According to SingTel, the site--which went live over the weekend--had a "sticky" response from users whom, on average, each interacted with four of the girls.

Jany Chau, co-founder of Crayon Digital, which was contracted to build and design the site, noted that in spite of the site's rich content, a "minimal" connection is sufficient. "It's quite a light site on the front end. You don't need huge pipes to view it," Chau said.

She added that the site took four weeks of development by a team of five: one project manager, two designers and two developers.

Microsoft Singapore's Haresh Khoobchandani, director of business and marketing organization, said the skills required to develop in Silverlight are similar to those for Microsoft .Net, the software giant's programming model for building Windows-based Web applications.

"For the people developing on .Net, Silverlight is a logical step...[because] the coding is similar," Khoobchandani said.

Chau added that the main developer who built the site does not have Microsoft .Net expertise, but was supported by a designer in Crayon who has the relevant skills.

The site is hosted on Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2005 on the backend. SingTel's Heng added that the telco has dedicated bandwidth resources to support the anticipated high traffic the site is expected to attract.

SingTel and Microsoft both made "investments" in the building of the site, but Heng did not say how much. He added that SingTel is not placing advertisements on the site, but said the telco will likely "look at other ways to work with [other organizations]" to monetize its F1 investment from the "goodwill" garnered from extending the site for free.

The racing event in Singapore has the distinction of being the first F1 night race.