Developing digital promotional assets (Extras) is important for a new show’s premiere and a new season premiere because it helps to set up the storyline to get audiences excited, and supplements episodes throughout the season for fan engagement. The assumption is that high fan engagement levels equates to high Nielsen or comScore numbers, and therefore higher ad revenue. Without a doubt, the best digital marketing assets are captured during production. I was recently on the LA set of the critically-acclaimed Web series Anyone But Me where I began to create digital assets for the show’s next season. I only tripped over cables a few times and ate a bit too much junk food, but it was well worth it to get what I needed for fans!
Marketing is Fan Advocacy
Entertainment marketers think entirely about the show’s audience. We represent the fan (and future fans) by putting ourselves in their heads. Content creators don’t…or at least not as much as we do. They focus on the story telling. That’s their job. It’s the marketer’s responsibility to supplement and grow fan interest in the show’s story before the premiere, as well as week-to-week until the end of the season. So whether it’s a TV show or Web series, the common digital marketing goals are to connect fans deeply with the show’s story and characters when they’re not watching it, and also bring them together as a community to spark discussions and share opinions. Hopefully they will also share content with their friends on Twitter and Facebook, etc. to generate wider interest.
Prepping To Go On Set
It’s important for marketers to feel connected to what they’re promoting, or efforts are likely to fall flat for the show. In entertainment marketing, feeling as excited as the content creator about a show is invaluable for generating creative marketing ideas. For me, the best place to capture this energy is on set. But before you step on set, you should do a few things to prepare to maximize everyone’s time:
- Read the Script: Before anyone can market a show, they need to read all the available scripts in order to “get” it. I read the scripts for Season three of Anyone But Me many times. Why? Because I needed to immerse myself into the characters and imagine what the show was going to look like to the audience. What are the compelling moments where fans would most likely have a significant reaction, character motivations, if there were any new characters introduced that could cause a stir, resolution to any cliffhangers from last season, etc. These tend to be universal questions for any show.
- Read Fan Comments: Next, if your show has already released a few episodes, read all audience comments you can find across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and any other distribution networks you use, to get a feel for which characters are clicking with the audience in a positive or controversial way. It’s helpful to know which characters are generating buzz.
- Review Viewer Numbers & Distributor Promotions: Which distribution channels are attracting higher traffic? Are your distribution partners running ads against your content and if so, how much are you making and which brands are they? Do you have a promotional partnership with any of your distributors to help improve show discovery? If it’s a TV show, research which episodes from last season drew the most broadcast and online viewers to understand where in the storyline interest was greatest and which characters were most involved.
Creating Digital Marketing “Extras”
As a fan of Anyone But Me for the past two seasons, I’ve been getting to know the characters throughout its 20 episodes. It’s both rare and special to work with a “long-running” Web series that has a devoted fan base, but the goal remains to grow the audience, appeal to potential sponsors and underwriters, and deliver a quality entertainment experience to current fans. My goals on set were:
Take Photos: Full cast, mixed shots of characters, candid. I’ve selected my new favorite behind-the-scenes still of Body of Proof’s Dana Delaney hopping onto the examining table with a “live” corpse. (Photo credit: ABC)
Film Video Clips: There are many exciting storytelling strategies that can be used for video clips. Most Web series and TV shows create these, but quality varies. I define quality as “would a fan enjoy this?” because it offers insight into the characters, the actors, the storyline, creators’ inspiration, it’s funny, and is it in good taste for the show’s brand, among other reasons. (See examples below.)
Talk With Talent: Get insight from the actors about what they think about their character and how its interact with other key characters in their storyline, etc. Marketing ideas can be sparked by talent’s interpretation of a character for a storyline.
Have a Liaison on Set
The crew knows who is “one of them” and who isn’t. It’s important that you have a liaison on set who introduces you around and ensures that everyone understands why you are there and what you’ll be doing. You’ll also need this person to have authority to clear time for you with talent, the director and anyone else relevant to creating assets as part of the digital strategy. Remember, cast and crew are focused on making a great episode. Stay reasonably clear of the set when taking photos and have video clip interview topics/angles and still shots of certain scenes in mind to make the most of everyone’s time. Talent is used to behind-the-scenes photos and videos these days, but a few staged funny photos are great too. Remember, you’re there to create fun and engaging material for the fans and to build show loyalty. Just be polite and work the same 12 hour day as everyone else does to get the job done.
Mini Case Studies: Launching a New Series or a Season Premiere
Following are examples of digital marketing strategies by new and returning TV shows. I selected them because I like these shows, and more importantly, believe they do a good job of sharing content with fans. All of the promo content is captured on set. If you’re a Web series creator, the needs are the same for your fans. Really. The only BIG differences are A-list talent and a marketing budget. Aside from that, you can create meaningful Extras for your show that can be less slick, but still valuable to your audience. And who doesn’t have a camera?
New Series Premiere
If introducing a new series, what information is most important to share with potential viewers that can turn them into active viewers and members of an engaged online community?
ABC has been introducing audiences for the past few weeks to its new show, Body of Proof. The show’s site is nicely prepped with episode one video clips, many on set photos and more. I found the episode one clip valuable to connect with the lead’s character (a bit arrogant) and the show’s vibe (some sarcastic humor). The character’s background is extremely important to the story, and hasn’t been shared in the broadcast commercials. The show’s Web site communicates it all more effectively than any commercial or billboard could. It premieres next week and already has over 13k Facebook Likes. (I’m sure lead Dana Delaney’s Desperate Housewives fan base has contributed to this amount too.) I admit to being a bit confused about why there isn’t more promotion on the site of co-star Jeri Ryan of Star Trek:Voyager (Seven of Nine) fame, among other TV series. Her fan following, as for all actors, should be tapped to generate viewers for the show. (If you work with new undiscovered talent in a Web series, see my post about strategies for finding your audience.)
Fox is a few weeks into the premiere of its new crime drama The Chicago Code, starring Jennifer Beals and HBO’s Brotherhood star Jason Clarke. It offers up a lot of fan extras, including stills and video interviews, but also works to introduce the show to the audience with a show description on the home page (placed a bit too far down in my opinion), a cast list with a character description and episode recaps that match stills to each episode. Unfortunately, thisshow overview info is buried under the “About” tab on the site. I would promote this content more on the homepage.
The slideshow promos at the top of a show’s homepage are extremely important for visitors. They should highlight the most important show information or call- to-action on the site. Fox offers three rotating ads at the moment: one that captures the character motivations of the show (nice), one that encourages visitors to watch the latest episode online (good), and one that encourages wallpaper downloads (huh?). I would swap the wallpaper promo with a more important call to action that is community-focused, such as “Join the Chicago Code Community” with a link to the community homepage. It’s important to prioritize your promos.
Something unique to Fox shows’ homepages is a News section (bottom right) that offers external links to media coverage about the show. The article quality in this section varies across the shows. If you decide to include third-party media links to your show’s homepage, make sure the content quality you send them to is GOOD. (I suggest not doing this because you want to keep visitors on your site and immersed in your content.)
Returning Series – Season Premiere
If a show is getting ready to premiere a new season, what can be done to pump up current fans to reconnect them to the characters and get them back in the groove to watch? Let’s take a look at what Showtime is doing to prep for the season premieres of their hits United States of Tara and Nurse Jackie.
Showtime’s United States of Tara started a journal for the many personalities of Tara, the lead character, a month out from its season three premiere date. (Very creative.) The journal’s homepage lives on Showtime’s site, but each “alter’s'” page was customized on Tumblr with a unique domain name that matches the character’s personality, with fun graphic design and journal entries written in their voice. They also notify fans know about new journal posts via the show’s Facebook fan page.
The show’s homepage and creative design also set up the season three storyline, letting the audience know that Tara is going back to school. That thought alone, knowing the character, lends itself to hilarious situations. Point being, it’s okay to reveal new season storylines to aggressively entice a new (or returning) audience to watch.
There’s also a promo ad encouraging fans to buy season two of the show on iTunes. One of the best times to drive purchases of a past season is just before the next season’s premiere and throughout the new season, when fans are most excited and engaged. So don’t forget to do it if this applies to your show!
Nurse Jackie’s season three premiere is also coming up. In addition to Edie Falco’s revealing interview about the new season, including new cast members and challenges for her character, there’s also a fun cast video where the actors talk about their favorite scenes.
The show is uniquely offering a special promotion for Bliss Spas to practicing nurses to celebrate the new season. This is the only corporate tie-in I’ve see with a season premiere among the show sites I’ve reviewed.
Marketing Budgets: TV Show vs. Web Series
Broadcast networks understand the importance of marketing their shows to rise above the noise of competing shows, and together with the show’s production company, provide resources to grab viewer mindshare. For Web series creators, budgets tend to be entirely focused on production, with nothing left over to promote the series. That’s fine if you just want your family and friends to watch it after you contact them via email or Facebook. But it will be difficult to develop a series brand, and attract potential sponsors or investors for your next season, if these are your goals. You can’t expect your series to go viral like a single YouTube video. Episodic serials require marketing – and note that I haven’t discussed media relations yet! If you’re serious about building a loyal and engaged audience, digital marketing assets, at minimum, need to be rolled out with the pilot (or first episode) and continue from there to leverage character development and plot line changes throughout the season. As I’ve said to clients over the years, you get only one chance to premiere or launch a show or product. That moment sets the tone for a very long time.
Show Quality: Marketing Can’t Perform Miracles
Most importantly, entertainment marketers are dependent on the writers and directors to produce a quality show. A mediocre show will not attract a large and loyal fan base, regardless of great marketing and a billboard on Sunset Strip. At the end of the day, marketing builds value for shows that are strong, but need help being discovered. As soon as discovery begins, fan engagement and hopefully growth begin. This is a process that takes time and trying out new creative strategies on a regular basis is important. In the end, the audience always decides which shows last!