How to Market New TV Shows in a Time of Splintered Audiences

Creating and Retaining Audiences Takes Long-Term Strategy Across Platforms

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"I'm going to have postpartum depression after this is over," said Michael Engleman, head of marketing at Syfy. He was talking about the April launch of "Defiance," a Syfy show in which what happens in an accompanying video game will influence plot points. Five years in the making, "Defiance" is one of NBCUniversal's priority projects, where heads of marketing throughout the company work together to make a hit.

'Defiance' cross-promotion included a themed episode of 'Face Off.'
'Defiance' cross-promotion included a themed episode of 'Face Off.'
From Comic-Con San Diego to the social web, promotion for the show is everywhere. Syfy is funding two campaigns -- one to promote the show and one to promote the game, with tags at the end of them asking viewers to try the other part. "The days of advertising about 30 days before the premiere are gone," said Mr. Engleman. "Long-lead is now our priority."

It's not enough to promote a new show during an older one. Audiences are splintered, rely on social recommendations, don't watch as much live and often binge-watch full seasons in a single sitting, so marketing needs to be more collaborative and planned. Charles Dreas, senior VP-media analytics at Nielsen, said one of the best ways to attract a new audience is to promote off your own inventory.

That's what led to "Defiance" being classified as a "gold" priority on Symphony, NBCUniversal's shared platform that brings together marketing muscle from all its arms to push through important properties.

"We go beyond inventory and into content," said John Miller, chief marketing officer at NBCUniversal's TV group. For example, contestants on "Face Off," a Syfy show about makeup artists, visited the set of "Defiance" to do alien makeup. And DVDs of Universal movies will have inserts promoting the show.

But you can't leave content discovery to chance. A&E launched "Bates Motel," the "Psycho" prequel, with extra content -- such as a Tumblr by Norman Bates -- so fans could stay engaged even when the show wasn't on. The show drew 4.6 million viewers on its first night, including a later replay.

And if an older show is returning, "bridging," or linking what has happened in prior seasons to the new one, is key. A&E encourages sampling via video on demand, while social media encourages people to watch shows live to get the most out of them.

HBO has done the latter with stunning success, especially with the blockbuster "Game of Thrones." "We want to market the show as an event and have an icon that is unexpected and distinctive," said Zach Enterlin, senior VP-program advertising.

When HBO announced the season premiere eight months ago, it drove fans to catch up on HBO Go. On Facebook, viewers could create their own "season recaps." And it sent "viewing-party kits" to bloggers and influencers. Over three airings, the season-three debut had 6.7 million viewers, higher than the 6.3 million who watched the previous season's premiere.

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