'So You Think You Can Dance?' Proves to Be a Perfect Partner

Fox Reality Hit Helps Buena Vista's 'Step Up' Open Big at the Box Office

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The deal: The Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Pictures linked with Fox network's hit summer show "So You Think You Can Dance?" to get a leg up on the competition for its feature release "Step Up." An extensive two-week brand integration embedded the music and stars from the film into the dancing contest, had judge and executive producer Nigel Lythgoe singing the movie's praises, and put the show's fancy-footed finalists on the red carpet for the film's premiere.

The result: "Step Up," a modestly budgeted drama with no bankable stars, pirouetted out of the gate with $20.6 million on its opening weekend and has since pulled in a high-flying $58.4 million worldwide. And "So You Think You Can Dance?" finished its season as the best-rated show of the summer, pushing Fox into the top spot on the night among broadcast networks in all key advertiser-coveted demographics.

'Step Up' did just that at the box office, with a little help from Fox's 'So You Think You Can Dance?"

Buena Vista Pictures' movie "Step Up" could have proved a hard sell this summer. It has no bankable stars, and it's not a sequel. But the film, about working hard and following your dreams, found the perfect dance partner with the two-hour season finale of Fox network's reality show "So You Think You Can Dance?," a show about working hard and following your dreams.

The deal is noteworthy because it not only was one of the most extensive integrations in recent memory that didn't reek of infomercial, but it also brought together two entertainment conglomerates that typically compete against each other.

Bypassing corporate synergy

Buena Vista Pictures executives could've tried to work some corporate synergy with sibling TV networks ABC or the Disney Channel, but they felt that the alliance with News Corp.'s Fox network and "So You Think You Can Dance?" was the best platform for the movie.

"We were able to get our message in front of 10 million people who were watching that show because they love music and dance," said Jim Gallagher, the studio's president of marketing. "It lined up on so many levels."

At first glance, it may not seem like your traditional branded-entertainment deal, but Buena Vista ended up integrating its product into a TV show the same way automakers or packaged goods companies do it -- and the studio may have done it even better.

The two properties found numerous ways to tango with each other during the two-week finale. The movie's young lead actors, Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan, both self-described fans of the "So You Think You Can Dance?," appeared in the audience, touching off some promotional chatter about "Step Up."

The four finalists of the heated dance competition were invited to the movie's Hollywood premiere, and vignettes from their red carpet experiences were laced throughout the show.

"The story in the movie really reflected our contestants," said Staci Weiss, senior VP at 19 Entertainment, one of the show's producers. "The fact that there was so much overlap made it easier for us to marry the two."

A fortuitous tagline

Disney surrounded the integration with ads for the movie, including a trailer that had one character asking another, "So you think you can dance?" Coincidentally and fortuitously, the line was already in the movie before the integration deal came together, executives said.

In addition to buying ads on Fox, Disney paid an undisclosed integration fee. Executives declined to give the total spend for the integration.

An added bonus: The finale of the show was timed perfectly for the launch of the movie, which opened Aug. 11.

Discussions started in early summer, when Disney executives saw the finished cut of "Step Up" and realized it was ripe for a song-and-dance tie-in. They showed it to executives from 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions, co-producers of "So You Think You Can Dance?"

The TV show added live performances this season by pop and hip-hop stars and on-screen IDs of the music playing when contestants danced. Those additions made it a requisite first-stop for record labels working to promote their music.

"Step Up" also just happened to have a soundtrack on Jive Records that featured hot young acts such as Kelis, Youngbloodz and Sean Paul. Jive wanted to match Ciara, who sings the soundtrack's first single, "Get Up," with the show. The movie's integration made that possible, and performers also danced to a Seal Paul song, "Give It Up to Me."

All those on-screen moves paid off.

Teen girls boost late-summer box office

The movie opened with $20.6 million, higher than many industry watchers had expected and second only to Sony's powerhouse "Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby." Teenage girls, who've been known to respond to late-summer fare that's aimed directly at them, drove much of the box office.

Perhaps more surprising was the second weekend. After more "Step Up" promotion on "So You Think You Can Dance?" -- including judge (and executive producer) Nigel Lythgoe gushing about the opening-weekend take and how much America had embraced dance -- the movie pulled in another $10.1 million. On a production budget of about $12 million, the movie has since made $58.4 million and it's likely to have a vibrant life on DVD.

"Dance" finished its run as the highest-rated summer series on broadcast TV, winning in key adult 18-34 and 18-49 demos. It swept in all key female demographics and improved its own ratings from the previous summer by 19% in adults 18-49 and 18% in 18-34. The show helped buoy Fox's overall ratings for the summer.

Studios and other marketers are increasingly looking for integrations as a way to speak to consumers in a highly fragmented media marketplace. Mr. Gallagher said he's a fan of integrations as long as they don't interrupt the entertainment.

Moving toward integrations

"If it's twisted like a pretzel just to get in front of some eyeballs, then it's not going to be overly effective," Mr. Gallagher said. "But all marketing is moving into integrations."

In this case, the integration worked in the short term and had some residual effects for both properties. All 35 dates of the "So You Think You Can Dance?" tour sold out in less than an hour, and the "Step Up" soundtrack has placed three top-10 singles on the charts.

Executives at 19 Entertainment said they are already in discussions with other marketers to be worked into the show for next season. "Dance," like many untested reality programs, had no brand integrations into its first season, and worked mainly with record labels for the just-concluded second installment this summer. The series could open up to other categories in the future.

"We're already being approached for next year," Ms. Weiss said. "We're interested in integrations that are timely, relevant and seamless."
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