LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- If Hollywood has learned anything this year, it's that horror fans like to call the shots. And just as Paramount is letting consumers dictate the distribution of its breakthrough hit "Paranormal Activity," MTV Entertainment Networks' Spike is letting fan feedback influence every aspect of its fourth annual Scream Awards, which premiere tonight.
Designed as a user-generated celebration of the best acting, directing and gruesome moments in horror, sci-fi and fantasy films, Scream has grown to become something of a ComicCon of the awards-show set. Like that three-day geek fest, which has gone from fanboy fantasy convention to major marketer bazaar, this year Scream will pull together luminaries of the sci-fi/horror set such as George Lucas, Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Craven, Roland Emmerich and Neil Gaiman as judges, while movie studios have stepped in to premiere exclusive footage from their hotly anticipated films -- including Warner Bros.' "Alice in Wonderland" from Mr. Burton and Summit's "Twilight: New Moon" -- at no cost to Spike.
While the judges select the nominees in the show's 18 awards categories -- which include Favorite Horror Actress, Favorite Fantasy Movie and Most Memorable Mutilation -- fans cast the final vote on Spike.com to choose each category's winner. This year's votes were up nearly 45%, to about 1.2 million.
"The studios know this is a very pure play to their core audience, and at Spike we try to remove ourselves a layer," said Casey Patterson, Spike's senior VP-event production and talent development. "We want to connect the studios and the talent and the legends making these films to their fans and remove everything else -- [there] hasn't been a show where these fans see their heroes' abilities be recognized like this."
Sponsors are responding to the unique approach too, with four integrated sponsorships for this year's awards: Geico, Subaru, Taco Bell and FreeCreditReport.com. Each sponsor will be featured throughout the show in customized vignettes that run during commercial breaks, all co-produced with Spike's integrated marketing team. Subaru, for example, will showcase its WRX vehicle through a short-form sequence in which a production assistant has to deliver a Scream tape on-time to the producers, racing through Los Angeles in a WRX with a driver to make sure it gets on-air in time.
Chris Rapp, Spike's VP-integrated marketing, said Scream has traditionally been one of Spike's stickiest programs on the commercial-ratings front because of the seamless transitions between programming and ad breaks the network has been trying to forge with its ad partners.
"The response has been very favorable, and that audience is a very picky audience," he said. "Even though these genres have very broad appeal, the general feeling was it was cool, that there was a definite connection and interest in learning about the brand and the products we featured. The more we try to integrate the sponsors in scenes from the show, the more the viewer is able to really establish a favorable perception of the overall sponsorship."
Scream has also become something of a hotbed for A-list talent, who went out of their way to thank the fans at Scream's Oct. 17 taping at Los Angeles' Greek Theater. Johnny Depp, perhaps the modern-day fanboy's ultimate hero, made two appearances -- one to introduce new footage from his "Alice" remake with Mr. Burton and the other to honor his friend and "Pirates of the Caribbean" mentor Keith Richards. Megan Fox accepted an award for her performance in "Transformers 2"; the casts of "True Blood" and "Battlestar Galactica" made well-received group appearances; Taylor Lautner debuted new footage of "New Moon" to great fanfare; and "Dawn of the Dead" director George Romero received a standing ovation when he was honored by Mr. Tarantino for his contributions to zombie cinema and the horror genre at large.