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iMedia Connection: Entertainment

iMedia Connection


Ways that broadcasters can take advantage of online ads
This just in: Internet advertising works -- it helps target and deliver tailored messages to consumers in the market for new cars. It promotes whiter teeth, provides ways to lose unwanted pounds, and scouts cheap home loans -- it's even found a way to sell currency that is only good for playing social online games. In short, the internet has proved itself as an incredibly effective vehicle for promoting almost anything. So, why is one of the most prevalent promotional forms -- television tune-in advertising -- still living in the dark ages? While stations and networks use their own air time, radio, cable, out-of-home, and perhaps even print for advertising during sweeps, internet-based tune-in promotion is actually quite rare. Tap into new digital knowledge. Want to stay on top of the latest developments in digital marketing? Attend ad:tech San Francisco, April 11-13. Learn more. The primary reason tune-in advertising hasn't proliferated on the web is because, historically, it was just plain hard to execute. Anytime video was involved, the activity of creating online ads was manual, time-intensive, and generally cost-prohibitive. There were no timely opportunities online for tune-in advertisers, who were used to having total control of swapping on-air promotions in (or out) as necessary. Advertising a daily syndicated show, the evening news broadcast, or prime-time programming requires promotional content that is relevant on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis. It is one thing to produce video for on-air, and quite another to run it through online ad trafficking, in-stream formatting, and rich media with production nightmares. However, online advertising now has the potential to solve a number of challenges in television promotion. For example, stations, networks, and syndicators need to reach an audience outside of their own viewership. Yes, radio and cable can help, but the web offers an inexpensive way to deliver video with nearly universal reach. Many television stations have their own web properties with display inventory that often goes unsold beyond remnant. Why not take advantage of that in-house inventory to promote their most valuable product? But it doesn't stop there; these stations can also reach relevant audiences on targeted external sites. For the recent November sweeps period, a leading television station in a top-three market decided to promote its nightly news broadcasts via in-banner video, both on its website and other locally relevant online sites. The station updated video content daily to keep the tune-in promotion timely and changed content during the day via an automated day parting plan. Taking advantage of interactivity, the ads brought in live Twitter feeds and other ways for the audience to interact with the station and television personalities. The campaign delivered hundreds of thousands of individual views, totaling thousands of hours of tune-in video consumed. More importantly, when the numbers came in, the station was notably up over its competitors. While there are always a number of factors that affect station ratings, this was the first time this station aggressively deployed dynamic online video advertising. Today, television creative services and programming teams can avoid the overwhelming barriers to timely, high-quality video promotions on the web. Here's how: Teams can traffic ads to their own brand sites -- or external sites purchased as part of a standard media plan -- one time and update the video content within those ads weekly, daily, or multiple times each day without re-trafficking. This new capability might seem simple, but it opens up a world of opportunities. Now, a tune-in promotion can be created, trafficked, and "aired" as quickly online as it is on television. In-banner tune-in ads offer reach, plentiful and inexpensive inventory, and true engagement. Audiences that view the video tune-in promotion are actually choosing to watch it, instead of being forced. Viewers also have more options to interact with the content they see, with social media and sharin[...]

Peter Guber's magic formula for marketing success
Mandalay Entertainment Founder and CEO Peter Guber knows how to motivate an audience. The entertainment pioneer who also started Columbia Pictures, Polygram Records, and Casablanca Records is credited with green-lighting some of the most memorable movies in history: "Taxi Driver," "Batman," and "The Color Purple," to name a few.  In Guber's keynote presentation at iMedia's 2009 Entertainment Marketing Summit in Beverly Hills, Calif., he shared some of his marketing mojo, explaining that it all comes down to persuading someone who isn't in your camp (whom he calls, the incumbent) to do something -- buy something, view something, support something, etc. And, in order to do this, you must first manage three key emotional states: fear, uncertainty, and resistance to change. Guber explained that this task was easier in the past because change came slowly. "Now, the artist and audience are connected at speed of light," he said. But they can still be managed, according to Guber, by investing in what he calls "state of the heart technology" -- also known as good storytelling. "All power of great leaders lies in their ability to bring their story forward and narrate that offering into a resonant, actionable, memorable story," Guber said.  The power in the oral storyGuber explained that humans are hard-wired to relate stories as a means of communication: "It has allowed us to socially organize and use language to drive ourselves to the top of the food chain," he said. He also described what he feels is the secret sauce to narrating a story that engages, whether it be for entertainment or persuasion: emotional transportation, which is when the information is bonded to the emotion related in the story. "In your story, you must demonstrate that you have a stake in the outcome too. To do this, you must be genuine and authentic. You must own your story before you tell it," Guber said. So, then, if the secret to creating the "oohs and aahs" necessary to get an audience to follow your lead is to tell them a story they can relate to, what should marketers be aiming to do when crafting these stories around a brand? Guber's advice is to motivate your audience to embrace your goal interactively with great content -- a concept he refers to as M.A.G.I.C: M: Motivate You must have intention before you can get an audience's attention. The audience must see you be at risk with them. Once you create this, the audience will follow you. You don't need to know all the answers, as long as you are authentic, Guber said.  A: AudienceYou, as the storyteller, are the artist, and the audience is your listener. The audience expects experiences. It's all about rendering the experience to them -- not what you find interesting but what they do. G: Goal Every story is a call to action. Know what it is and don't try to keep that goal secret, Guber advised. "If you are authentic in what you say, it will be OK (in fact, it will be better.)" I: InteractivityAll neural narrative is interactive, as the brain is always sending signals back and forth. Guber recommends that marketers look at every meeting as a conversation, not a speech. Your audience is more likely to remember and accept your message if you weave it into the form of an interactive story -- "It is what makes your information memorable and resonant," he said. C: Content"Look for good content within your own experience," Guber said. "Use analogy, metaphor, or any other device to bring it out. Look for something where emotion shines through and you can bond the story to it." According to Guber, if you can use any of these five in your communication efforts, you'll create an emotional platform of relevance. "Your journey is moving other people's hearts before their wallets," he said. Jodi Harris is senior editor at iMedia Connection. On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. Add a comment[...]

Why some summer movie campaigns fail to engage

Summer and blockbuster films go together like America and apple pie. They are a national obsession. Forget checking the weather or your calendar. If studios start pumping out $100 million-plus pictures every Friday, rest assured, summer has arrived.

There are dozens of major motion pictures slated for release over the coming weeks and months. Studios and their agencies have been working on the ramp-up to each film's release date far in advance.

Unfortunately, though, the majority of the digital campaigns out there follow one common, tired, and played-out template.

The vast majority of movie websites have a generic navigation bar with the same general lineup: background on the movie and its characters, videos (which are mostly trailers from the film), downloads (mostly wallpapers and instant messaging icons), games, and a gallery of images and other basic content.

Some movies simply try to stand out in one or two of those categories. Others take things further, but even still, most stick to an almost industry-wide regimen. They'll hit the social media darlings of the day like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and maybe Digg or Delicious, and then they'll make a mobile play with either a game built to work well on most cellphones, or a simple short code that will lead fans to exclusive content and varying levels of engagement.

iMedia looked at 15 of the biggest films slated to hit the screen this summer. Sure, some of the films' sites really stood out with sensational graphics or well-thought out user experiences, but most left too much opportunity on the table, and more to be desired.

"The websites for 'X-Men Origins Wolverine,' 'Star Trek' and 'Terminator Salvation' have incredibly high production values. They're beautiful. But are they effective marketing tools? I'm not so sure," says Adam Kleinberg, CEO of Traction.

"So many of the summer blockbusters try to do so much, they wind up doing nothing," he adds. "Visit the website for every single one, and you'll see the same content over and over: galleries, trailers, screen savers, cast and crew, the game, the iPhone app, and the Facebook app."

Then, Kleinberg hits it on the head: "How many wallpapers does a fella need?"

There are some standout hits in terms of web design and user experience, but deeper engagement is hard to find. Too many film sites employ the traditional template, while social media efforts get hidden in the background.
Steve Wax, managing partner at Campfire, says many summer movie campaigns are lacking persistent engagement and patience.

"A successful movie campaign is a slow three- to six-month sly and engaging process, not just a two-week, $100-million TV campaign," he adds. "It's essential that any summer movie campaign -- particularly for a franchise -- finds its core fans and activates them. This core could be 100 influential vampire bloggers, 25 highly influential comic book stores and their owners, or Beverly Hills moms who are nuts about Chihuahuas."

Wax, who has been working with Campfire on the digital campaign for "Terminator Salvation," says studios need to think about how to engage their core audience and cause them to speculate about something along the lines of an online mystery, a celebrity acting out, or a highly emotional public debate.

"I'd like to see any tactic the Weinstein Brothers used when they owned Miramax -- gone digital," Wax says.

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The ills and frills of social media
As president of worldwide digital marketing for Sony Pictures Entertainment, Dwight Caines has worked on more than 200 film campaigns. He's heralded numerous strategies that have paid off for the studio through the years. Yet, he's also the first to admit that everyone in the business is still learning and trying best to keep up with the rapidly changing toolset at their disposal. In an interview with iMedia, Caines discussed the power of social media and the dilemmas it can quickly bring to bear. Dwight Caines will be the recipient of this year's iMedia Visionary Marketer Award at the Entertainment Summit on June 25 in Beverly Hills, Calif. iMedia: How have your primary responsibilities changed over the years at Sony Pictures Entertainment? Dwight Caines: I now have a kind of dotted line management oversight over a team called Image Works Interactive. They were formerly called Sony Pictures Digital, and this is the team that supports us in-house and allows us to leverage all of our movie, TV, and home entertainment brands in the digital space. It's as if we have an in-house agency, but essentially in this relationship they're really integrated into my team of marketers and creatives, so we have a real buy-in from everybody that's working on the products. Generally, what I'm trying to do -- and I think this is the hardest part -- is to bring people together for some of the larger, more strategic conversations around what we do in this space, how we comply in this space, and how we innovate. iMedia: Are you intricately involved in the marketing blitz and run-up to every major motion picture release? Can you give an example of what that work entails for a senior executive such as yourself? Caines: It's always been interesting to me because I've often heard digital marketers at other studios, or even people who wanted to be in business with us, talk about the digital team not having a seat at the table. And for us, I've never experienced that. So in every senior marketing meeting, every early meeting with filmmakers, I'm at the table. We look at this as just an extension of the marketing team. One of the interesting things about digital is if we were to do nothing, the medium allows us to measure how some of the other marketing efforts are resonating with consumers. So, for example, organic search might spike when something happens in the publicity world, or online chatter might grow and the sentiment might move from neutral to positive. Site traffic will often grow when other media runs. If we did nothing, we'd still be measuring very closely how consumers were reacting to our material, but the fact is we're launching many, many engagement opportunities on each campaign. So I'd say my team is deeply integrated -- there's sort of a publicity and an outreach angle to what we do, there's a creative angle to what we do, there's a research and business intelligence angle to what we do. It's a deeply integrated team with the rest of marketing. iMedia: What's the all-time most innovative and clever campaign you've seen so far? Caines: It's hard for me, after working on some 200-odd campaigns, to really isolate one, only because there are different levels of success with each. Frankly, some campaigns are designed to maintain a particular positioning among consumers. Some are designed to change their perspective. And so it's really hard to isolate a campaign and say this one worked better than that one. iMedia: OK. How about this: What's the one campaign that you wish you were behind? Caines: Nothing comes to mind right now, but I will say that I try to be a student of marketing and watch what other people do. I'm always looking at other peoples' media that runs and how well they've integrated the call-to-action from, say, broadcast to digital to a print interaction. And I always respect when people do that really well. Because attention is so fragmented, what we're trying to do is just build deep immersion as many ways as we can. I did love t[...]

Paramount's new-style movie marketing
Paramount SVP of interactive marketing Amy Powell never seems happy unless she's trying something new, which is one of the reasons she won iMedia's Visionary Entertainment Marketer Award back in 2007.  Two recent campaigns in particular stand out: the hysterical "Rain of Madness" fake documentary for "Tropic Thunder" and "Eagle Eye Free Fall" ARG (alternate reality game) for the forthcoming thriller, "Eagle Eye." In both cases, rather than recycle footage from the features Powell created original content to extend and tease the movies. I sat down with Amy Powell to talk about the campaigns, the opportunities digital media provide movie marketers, and what she wants to do next. Brad Berens: I played "Eagle Eye Free Fall" and loved it. It is a supremely creepy and scary experience and it sucked me in totally. It also provoked my wife Kathi to wander into my home office and ask, "What are you watching?"  Please share the basics surrounding this campaign -- it's a 10-minute combo-platter of online, video and mobile marketing, but how is the content of the experience related to the movie?  Amy Powell is senior vice president of interactive marketing at Paramount Pictures. Amy Powell: Free Fall is designed to be an intense plunge into the world of "Eagle Eye" and allows players to experience what [the lead character] Jerry Shaw goes through first hand. Players can easily replay and share with their friends, in a cross-media storytelling format. It is a unique 10-minute interactive game that allows you to live inside the movie experience.    Free Fall places the player in Jerry Shaw's shoes and creates the same sense of intensity within the alternate reality game. Essentially, players are contacted by characters from the world of "Eagle Eye" and become a part of the movie. As soon as you sign up, your cell phone will ring. The woman on the other end uses your computer to hack through security systems, your email to send possibly treasonous instructions and your phone to make sure that if you make one false move, the police will be coming for you.    Berens: Truly, the "Eagle Eye Free Fall" experience is a lesson in integrated campaigns in and of itself. How difficult was it to coordinate all the moving parts on this campaign element? Any recommendations you can give to other marketers looking to develop campaigns on such a scale?  Powell: This campaign was actually really great to pull together because we have a team of filmmakers that understand the interactive space and were eager to extend the experience of the film into an ARG. Also, given the theme of the film, the extension to a digital experience was a natural fit, so we were able to migrate players through multiple screens organically and without having to force the experience -- which is not the case on all films. The biggest challenge of creating and executing an ARG or any additional content related to a feature film is the concern that our content won't live up to the film itself. There is a lot of pressure to deliver content that not only complements the film, but actually raises the stakes to another level... not to mention that we work under pretty strict budget and time constraints. Berens: Another thing I noticed was what "Eagle Eye Free Fall" doesn't do. It doesn't make a big play for the user. It doesn't, say, hook up to Fandango or; it doesn't even say, "Be there on 9/26... or else."  Why not? What are your major marketing goals and challenges for the campaign?  Powell: Working with the filmmakers to create the game, we all decided that one of the most appealing elements of the film was the fact that the basic premise of the movie was so relatable. The entire question of what would happen if technology turned against us, in a world where we are all so reliant upon technology, was a real and tangible idea to play with when creating an ARG. We wanted t[...]

Why the networks are blowing the social scene
I remember my first social media experience with digital content for a television show. It was an early form of an application that I could download that allowed me to view, mashup and share video content. The technology was crude, and the video definition was atrocious. It took 10 minutes to stream a two-minute video clip. That was in 1999, and the show was "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." I wasn't necessarily a fan of the show, but I was a very big fan of the application. We've come a long way.       Now, I can get that same app on my phone with 10-times the features and functionality, and with audio and visual content that is strikingly crisp and clear. Additionally, social media websites like YouTube, MySpace and Facebook allow me to not only view and share content, but to create content, and even create applications that drive interaction with that content.   As I said, we've come a long way.Unlike traditional media, such as newspapers, radio and television social media depend on interactions between people. This interaction builds shared-meaning, using technology as the conduit. This puts the audience in control of the method, and the message. More and more, we are the authors of the media we consume. The audience -- cum authors -- can participate in social media by adding comments or even editing the content themselves. Content in social media can take the form of text, graphics, audio or video. Several formats can be mixed. We've seen social media marketing campaigns go awry. Big brands like Chevrolet and Wal-Mart have made critical missteps in their attempts to leverage social media. So how does a television network promote its shows harnessing the method of social media without losing control of the message or feigning authenticity? Let's examine how two of the most anticipated fall TV show premieres -- "Fringe" on Fox and "Heroes" on NBC -- are leveraging social media, and particularly social networking websites and applications, to drive awareness and tune-in. We will focus on Facebook and MySpace as they represent the majority of the social networking and social web application audience.     "Heroes" on NBC This show suffered the sophomore blues last season. There was a downturn in ratings and NBC is looking to this third season to re-ignite the fan base with faster-paced action, deeper character storylines and, something we all seem to be craving from our favorite suspense-tinged TV shows these days -- answers. Unlike the rest of the shows I researched for this article, "Heroes" has the largest assortment of social media and applications out there.  The show's fans run a number of Facebook Groups. MySpace features a highly immersive branded profile page. Each of these outlets offers up dozens, if not hundreds of pieces of content, most of which are embeddable and/or viral.    What Heroes Character are you? is a Facebook application that lets fans step into the shoes of their favorite character by answering a survey. The application assigns a character to you based on your answers. You can then display the result on your profile page as well as share the app with your friends.  The Heroes Countdown application is available on most social networks and has a timer, ticking away the seconds, minutes, hours and days to the season premiere as well as embedded photos and other content. The countdown is displayed on your social network profile page for all to see and share. Heroes VS is a MySpace application served up directly from NBC/Universal and has a very rich interface, loaded with content. You can create your own Heroes VS in just a few simple steps! Choose a category and select an item from the 2 dropdown menus for each side of your VS. Then, type a question for the VS (for example, "Who is stronger?") and choose media from the library below to represent eac[...]

Digital entertainment: the next Y2K?
In the early days of the internet, anything marketers did to promote their brands online was exciting and virtually guaranteed to garner attention due to sheer novelty. But the honeymoon phase is over, particularly in the entertainment industry. Users' sophistication with interactive media has undoubtedly increased -- in fact, most professionals admit that the public's abilities have far outpaced the industry's own growth in terms of tech adoption, innovation and creativity. And this means it's time for marketers to become more precise in their content development, and more strategic in their use of technological delivery. On the cuspSo what lies in store for entertainment marketers as they move into the accountability phase of the digital industry? According to Shelly Palmer, managing director of Advanced Media Ventures Group LLC, we are on the cusp of some ground-shaking moves. Palmer, who moderated a panel at this week's iMedia Entertainment Marketing Summit on the future of entertainment marketing, started his discussion with a bold statement: "I don't know what the future of entertainment is -- and I'm not sure any of us need to know. Anyone who says they have a long-term answer is either lying or is delusional." While a definitive solution may currently be out of reach, Palmer outlined two events that will certainly play a large part in the industry's next move forward: television's transition to a digital signal on Feb. 15, 2009 -- which he refers to as the real Y2K -- and the resulting auction of the analog space. "Within 12 months, we will live in a broadband cloud environment," he said. "Devices won't work how we're used to them working…this fundamentally changes the way we think about getting and sending content."  Preparation can't be siloedSo how can the entertainment industry -- and all industries, for that matter -- prepare for this seismic shift in content consumption and marketer response? Explaining that today's marketers have powerful digital tools at their disposal to gauge audience attention and execute on distribution strategies, Palmer said, "We don't have to guess, we just have to do our data mining, do our data crunching and then act." So far, Palmer's data crunching has revealed that entertainment is not alone in its challenges, and won't be able to act alone in reaching a solution. Palmer shared a story of being in the purchase funnel for a Bluetooth application for his mobile phone, but he was unable to take action because his state-of-the-art device wasn't compatible with the necessary file formatting. This disconnect may be key to understanding content usage patterns and the acceptance of content on new platforms. "If consumers are coming from a touchpoint that a brand is not able to deal with, you will lose out to someone that can." David Wertheimer agreed that the answer to entertainment's digital advancement lies in usability. The executive director of the USC Entertainment Technology Center said during the panel discussion, that consumers are ecstatic that they can consume media anytime, anywhere. "But the opportunity to really reach them lies in providing tools they can easily use to accomplish their goals. Young consumers are driven, creative and increasingly technical. So you either give them what they want and reach them where they are, or they will figure out ways to take it. And you will be left out." Jim Moloshok, executive chairman of GoFish Corporation, continued in this vein, stating that, "The world is changing, and it's important we change with it, including our careers and what we're focused on." Moloshok said that since there is no native programming yet to take advantage of the interactive environment, people are using content-rich devices, but they aren't finding an easy, direct path to what they want to view, buy or otherwise interact with. This is a fundamental barrier to anything digital mar[...]

New media gets you the right audience
Massive billboard and TV campaigns for a summer blockbuster are tried and true methods of grabbing attention and putting butts in seats at the multiplex. And while online interactive campaigns get consumers excited about a film in the same way, the party line on new media is that it lacks reach. Peter Levinsohn, president of Fox Interactive Media, disagrees. In Levinsohn's eyes, the line between traditional and new media is blurring. "There are obviously some distinctions between the two," Levinsohn said at the iMedia Entertainment Marketing Summit. "Traditional media is more synonymous with mature quality. New media is rapid. There is this feeling that the internet has less reach, and that’s not an idea I would qualify." The large difference between the two, Levinsohn said, is the ability to hyper target an audience via new media, thanks in large part to a changing internet user. MySpace, a Fox property, combines broad, billboard-like marketing possibilities with the ability to find a precise audience. "MySpace has a number of very unique factors to it," he said. "We have 75 million people who come every month, and we also have a homepage. The finale of 'American Idol' was watched by 30.5 million people. We're hitting that type of audience every single day [on the MySpace homepage]. We have the benefit of a mass reach, big billboard-type of advertising." When MySpace recently relaunched its homepage with a full page ad touting the Warner Bros. film "The Dark Knight," a preview of the movie was viewed 78 million times. But beyond that, MySpace is able to hyper target the audience a marketer wants to reach. Thanks to user-submitted data, MySpace can comb through 40 billion data points, which include things like users' favorite films, music and actors. "Probably one of the biggest things we're seeing is massive amounts of communication and sharing of information about individuals," Levinsohn said. "Even today it shocks me how much information people will share about themselves." For a campaign for "Fantastic 4," MySpace was able to show the marketing team that five million members liked science fiction. Of those, two million MySpace members said "X-Men" was one of their favorite movies of all time, and 500,000 said Jessica Alba, one of the film's stars, was their favorite actress. "I've just described the exact target audience for 'Fantastic 4,'" Levinsohn said. MySpace's targeting abilities have also led to some surprising results, such as the fact that video game players with an affinity for tattoos and body piercings also have a strong brand loyalty to Diet Coke. But how do advertisers take advantage of the reach offered by MySpace and other social networks? Stick to the space, Levinsohn said. MySpace draws up to 43 billion page views a month, but advertisers aren't taking advantage of it. "One of the things that has struck me as odd, is that the ad spending really isn't keeping up with the time spent, which is somewhat interesting," he said. While it's easier than ever to find an audience that might be interested in a brand, the goal is to actually engage the audience. When it comes to this, creative is king, according to Levinsohn. "Users absolutely love to engage with content," Levinsohn said. "Any time you can get them to engage in professionally created content makes it more fun for them. The more you get them excited about the branded asset, the better." Rich Cherecwich is assistant editor for iMediaConnection.Add a comment[...]

How marketers can make or break a blockbuster

The ways movies have to perform nowadays have changed dramatically since the advent of the "event" movie in the 1970s. A film can have a blockbuster opening weekend, but for it to be a true blockbuster anymore interest has to be maintained so that it performs well over several weeks. Ultimately success or failure rests on the shoulders of the filmmakers, not the marketers. All we can do is try to deliver the biggest opening weekend possible. We control the quality of the marketing campaign, not the film, so we have to assume the opening weekend numbers will be all we get.

The online aspects of marketing a major summer movie have the same goals as the overall campaign: get butts in the theater seats. Viral marketing enables us to create more heat around a title, offer background and expand the story beyond what's covered in the film. Basically we provide movie fans with ample fodder to drool over. But the viral aspects expose us to a lot of tricky pitfalls. Are we using the right tools? Are we speaking to our target audience effectively? Are we stoking the flames of interest, but doing so in a way that ensures we don't run out of wood by the time the movie premieres? It's a delicate balance.

Save the date! For more powerful ways to extend your entertainment brand's influence and outreach, attend the iMedia Entertainment Marketing Summit, June 24, 2008. Request an invitation to the Entertainment Marketing Summit.

The fact is viral marketing of movies has become a little too literally viral for its own good. The marketing gimmicks themselves have become so relentless, so ubiquitous, so overbearing that in many ways they nullify their ability to rise above the chatter. We are marketers, but we're also moviegoers. And as consumers many of us are growing tired of our own marketing tactics.

Let's take a look at some of the ways the major studios are using new media to market 2008's tent poles, and see how the biggest trend -- audience fatigue -- is being managed.

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Can online gain lost viewers?
The writers and studios should certainly be congratulated for putting an end to the bitter war over DVD and download royalties. Amidst all the giant sighs of relief within the industry, there's one minor detail that could prove problematic: it seems that the viewers aren't willing to come back to the table anytime soon. Given the decidedly negative discussion among general TV viewers lamenting the absence of their favorite scripted shows in TV message boards and blogs over the last few months, one would assume a bright future for the industry once those shows were to return. In looking at these two recent trends in ratings and online word of mouth, the effects of the strike may actually last longer than expected. Decreases in online activityViewers are less engaged with traditional word-of-mouth powerhouses, like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Lost," than they were last year. Thousands of audience comments from general TV sites (IMDB, and fan forums like lostfans come across my desk each week, usually accompanied by snap-shot buzz comparisons from as far back as two years ago. So far in 2008, both of these previously buzz-worthy shows have seen an average 10 percent drop in engagement -- fans have been less active in blogging and posting messages. Even though "Grey's Anatomy" has been in repeats since mid January and would be exempt from concern to the naked eye, a quick look at females 18-49 on sites like Grey's Anatomy Insider also shows less enthusiasm (15 percent fewer posts than during repeat-heavy periods in January last year). For "Lost" the story is much of the same, as commentary from mainstream bloggers has waned in frequency from this time in 2007. According to Technorati, the volume of posts featuring "Lost" discussion was almost 30 percent higher during last February. Considering that "Lost" was one of the only returning scripted shows to air during the strike and should have capitalized on a lack of other viewing options, the news is troubling. The downward trend in online activity doesn’t end with discussion either, as recent statistics indicate an overall decrease in streaming and video downloads. According to the figures published on NewTeeVee, overall web video views were down 5 percent from December (almost 300 million less views). YouTube, the industry leader in video streaming, was down 70 million streams from December. Many might have assumed that a lack of original content on television would have led to increased activity on the web, but viewers were apparently quick to find other activities. With the strong correlation between online word-of-mouth/video streaming and television viewership, it's no surprise that this second trend has recently come to the forefront: Can online save the day?Viewership for first-run unscripted episodes has been faltering since the end of the strike. According to figures published in Media Life, the Big Three networks (CBS, NBC and ABC) all suffered a combined 11 percent drop from the last week in February among adults 18-49 (also the most active demographic online). With "American Idol" keeping a reality-heavy FOX in the driver's seat, viewers were less enthused to see new offerings from usual ratings stalwarts like "Lost" (ABC), "Jericho" (CBS) and the original "Law and Order" (NBC). However, while the above information may not encompass the ingredients needed for a successful return, it does provide marketers with an opportunity to reach out to disheartened audiences directly to make up for lost time. Much like companies who issue apologies to customers for not delivering products as promised, marketers have the opportunity to effectively communicate to audiences why the strike occurred, and why the audience is such a valuable entity for studios. For example, ABC has been running ads that say "your favorite shows are ba[...]

Cable eats network TV's lunch with online marketing this fall
For the slate of new and returning fall season shows, the networks are cautiously experimenting with fan participation, while cable networks are diving in on the deep end. At this time last year, every major network had made up with YouTube (except Viacom) and rolled out new websites and features focused on video clips and previews, as well as full episodes to promote their brands and monetize the traffic with advertising. Cable networks, on the other hand, lagged behind in both video and monetization. Fall '07 tells a different story, with blogs, UGC and widgets percolating up from cable networks onto websites with the addition of advertising and sponsorships. While online video in the form of full episodes is still generally missing, the amount of innovation and fan participation has been ramped up in campaigns ranging from USA Network's "Monk" to promotions on BravoTV and VH1. Aggressive moves by cableUSA Network's "Monk" is being promoted on the network, encouraging fans to go online to meet fans in the show's community and submit videos, pictures and a profile related to a UGC-based "Where's Monk" bobblehead promotion. Here, fans submit pictures of their Monk bobbleheads and the voters can play detective and guess where Monk is around the globe. It's all tied into an on-brand Windex sponsorship along with a "Closet Makeover" contest. Windex gets the promotional branding with display ads on the custom game screens and a logo that clicks back to their website. Yet, Windex (and USA Network) misses the opportunity for the branded entertainment tie-in by not having a "Monk" image on the CPG website. Where the "Monk" site itself falls short is with its faux blog, which are becoming popular among entertainment websites. On the "Monk" website blog, characters and production staff post comments to the site, even though the site does not allow comments from fans (hence, the "faux"). Networks need to realize that while they give up some control, what's lost without a quick post is the sense of immediacy and participation that those familiar with blogging are accustomed to. In contrast, Bravo TV's site delivers fresh content with videos, cast blogs that viewers can actually respond to and a widget that allows fans to show Bravo's video on their MySpace pages. And, while the blogs are moderated, at least it's a step in the right direction to give fans a sense of ownership and participation in the show and their favorite characters. Finally, on the cable front, the show that gets my vote for Web 2.0 show of the year is season 3 of VH1's "Flavor of Love." The show has given some of this year's casting over to fans and contestants who register for the site. Contestants and voters upload a profile, photos and video of themselves while registered voters submit a vote a day. Each profile has a blog feature that lets fans comment back and forth. As you take a look at the voter profiles, it allows for testimonials from contestants, which act as solicitations for votes. And, to give added incentive to vote, top ballot stuffers are featured on the home page. To cap it off, contestants can syndicate and promote their profiles via a promotion widget, so the contestants can use their MySpace accounts as another channel of visibility. All of these tactics work together to give this quirky show some great momentum in new fan acquisition and returning fan retention. Cautious network updatesWhile cable networks seem to be embracing some of online's more renegade strategies, network TV is still playing it relatively safe. The networks are focusing on hitting fall premiere time with strong slate of show-based video, though with a heavier emphasis on web exclusives, full episodes, recaps and clips. In addition, the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) have all updated th[...]