Posts Tagged ‘Starz’


Outlander and the Power of the Fan Base

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
flickr user Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer

flickr user Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer

The digital age has given fan bases and brand advocates the tools to unite with unprecedented speed and volume, something Variety no doubt learned this weekend when one of their writers incited a fan firestorm.

The Television Critics Association winter press tour began last week, and naturally, television critics were covering it in force, one of them being Malina Saval, associate features editor at Variety. In her article, “12 Cable Shows That TCA Convinced Us to Watch,” Saval mentioned Starz’s upcoming series Outlander. Here’s how she described it:

“This new series is based on the internationally bestselling novels by Diana Gabaldon that bored middle-age housewives have been going absolutely bananas over. It’s set in the 1700′s, involves time travel and sexy period-piece costumes, and its Harlequin Romance-esque plot is sure to fuel breathy playground chatter for the next year. “

A few months back, we noted how successful Starz’s viral campaign became even before the shooting began. That success was – and still is – due in large part to a vast and very dedicated fan base. A few people in that fan base saw Saval’s article, posted it to online fan groups, and some of the fans mobilized. Variety’s articles usually get comments in the single digits, but Saval’s article has nearly 500 comments at the time of posting, every single one of which refutes Saval’s characterization of Outlander and its fan base.

I’m a fan of the books (and, if it matters, neither middle-aged nor housewife). But I don’t have to be to see that Saval’s comments were incorrect (the books are not genre romance novels, and ergo cannot be Harlequin) and, more importantly, misogynist; Saval not only implied that female tastes are inherently “frivolous,”* but that by virtue of the series being popular with women, it’s not to be taken seriously. This synopsis also did nothing to endear the many men who enjoy the series.

My first instinct was to think that Saval had inadvertently caused the flurry of comments with a flippant two-sentence synopsis. But let’s also acknowledge that journalists are in a tough spot: in a contracting profession with heavy emphasis on digital presence, there’s pressure to get high traffic and rankings. So it’s conceivable that, in trying to garner page views with a segment that is not Variety’s primary audience, Saval, knowing the strength of the Outlander fan base, phrased her synopsis as she did in a bid to reap comments and page views. Machiavellian? Yes. Effective? Very.

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the whole situation was the 48 hours of silence from Variety and Saval. Engagement – with your fans, your readers, even with your badvocates – is one of the top credos of modern-day PR, and the comments went unacknowledged until yesterday afternoon, when Saval tweeted:

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 9.45.14 PM

If Saval’s comments weren’t intentionally provocative, her response certainly was. Comparing fans’ responses to a fatwa isn’t engagement – it’s on the verge of trolling, and is a pretty great example of how not to respond if you actually want to engage. And while PR bandies the word “engage” around a lot, we need to recognize that it goes far beyond making a melodramatic comparison to political persecution; it’s about reaching out to those who have had a negative response and acknowledging their experience. Community is about the conversation; it’s what makes the comment sections important in online media.

If the tone of her initial synopsis wasn’t intentional, Saval unwittingly turned herself into a classic example of one of the tenets of PR: don’t underestimate the power of a fan base. It doesn’t matter if it’s your base or someone else’s fan base, because there will be backlash.

That’s why engaging your fan base is so incredibly vital: Your fans and advocates are crucial to your success. One of the reasons the Outlander television series has almost every fan on board is because the main cast, writers, producers, author, and even the costume designer continually engage with fans on Twitter. They make the fans a part of the brand they already love, and respect them for who they are. When you nurture your audience like that, they come to your defense in force; when you ignore them, they’re left with a bitter taste and negative feelings.

*Quotation marks connoting not that Saval said such tastes are frivolous, but that “chick lit” and romance novels get the (undeserved) reputation of being frivolous

The Outlander Guide to a Viral Social Media PR Campaign

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Tips for a viral social media campaign from Starz series OutlanderWith a saturated social media landscape and the constant pressure to keep things “new,” instigating a buzz-worthy PR campaign and keeping the flames alive is an active challenge.

One current campaign is making a social media splash: Outlander. Starz network is adapting the first in a series of seven (soon to be eight) books into a television show, and their social media campaign has grown every week since its inception in June.

Here’s how you can take a page from the Outlander book to maximize your social media PR campaign.

Engage with your base

The Outlander book series has an existing zealous fan base. Starz network is leveraging that base – which is devoted to the books and their author, Diana Gabaldon – to help the campaign become more widespread. By bringing existing brand evangelists into the fold, they’re not only keeping conversations about the show almost wholly positive, they’re spurring those evangelists to spread the word. The lesson: leverage your fan base to broaden your message.

Share new developments…

The Starz team shared casting information as they confirmed individual cast members. They’ve also shared progress on production and tidbits from locations and the set. Updating followers on exciting developments is crucial to maintaining engagement, so instead of insisting on total secrecy regarding updates on projects, new products, or campaigns, release salient tidbits at a slower but consistent pace. This keeps users anticipating the next announcement, but gives them enough time to discuss, process, and publicize the latest developments.

… But don’t share too much

Much as Starz keeps its fans in the know, there’s a lot they’re keeping under wraps. They haven’t released any photos from the set that show actors, costumes, or locations (though bystanders have shared many unauthorized on-set photos).

Though fans are clamoring to see photos of the two stars (and on-screen love interests) together in costume, the studio hasn’t released any. They also delayed announcing cast members for significant supporting roles, causing fans to generate plenty of social media threads speculating.

Allowing the base to know just enough but not too much keeps the hype and energy going. If you’re running a campaign for the launch of a new product or service, start the PR campaign as the project is being developed, sending out bits of information that will create interest without giving it all away. Think of it as building to the climax of a story, not just dumping information. Allowing room for speculation creates extra press and anticipation.

Pursue author engagement

Another thing in the TV show’s favor is that the books’ author, Diana Gabaldon, has a significant presence on Facebook and Twitter, and already engages in prolific brand evangelist interaction. Knowing how devoted the fans are to the books, Starz consulted with Gabaldon when casting, which helped assure fans that the brand was author-approved, regardless of how much say Gabaldon ultimately had in the casting.

Similar tactics can pay off for your PR campaign. If the subject of your campaign has dedicated, involved authors or creators, integrate that person into the campaign, especially if that person is known in his or her field as credible, a thought leader, or an influencer. Even if they’re not, the campaign can help establish them as such, at much benefit to your organization.

Get key players to engage

Starz uses its official account to disseminate information, but the show’s director, writers, and lead actors are all on Twitter. They all interact with fans and help spread announcements. In fact, one of the show’s leads, Sam Heughan, went from around 1,000 followers before the casting announcement to over 15,000.

Getting your key players to participate in social media campaigns can have a huge positive effect. Make sure to establish ground rules from the beginning – what’s permissible for sharing, how to interact with fans, how to deal with any negativity – and set a baseline for daily or weekly interactions. This will have the two-fold effect of diversifying users who see your social media efforts, but will also help turn your members in authorities, in turn bolstering your organization’s profile.

Build a presence around industry attendance

Last weekend, Gabaldon and the show’s writer and producer, Ronald D. Moore, made a joint panel appearance at New York Comic-Con. Not only did this stir up a lot of excitement on social media as they shared new insights, it also raised the profile of the show and made them visible to a larger audience.

If you’re attending industry events and conferences, incorporate that into your social media campaign. Create your own hashtag around the campaign and your presence, and before you get there, engage with people who will be going. Then, engage with them in person and on social media during the actual event. Post pictures, provide updates, and maintain an active presence throughout the event.

Stay true to the brand

Throughout everything, it’s essential to stay true to your brand’s values and vision. If the campaign deviates too sharply from what fans know, it could create a lot of confusion and animosity. It comes back to knowing your audience, harnessing your existing fan base, and building off of past success.

Battles Rage Over Content, as Netflix Changes the Game in the Web TV and Streaming Video Space Once Again

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

ba-netflix0811_f_SFCG1281474279With the help of Wikipedia, I learned the different types of battles that are fought. If you’ve been following what is going on in the latest turf wars between the cable providers (Time Warner Cable, Comcast), online providers (Netflix, Hulu) and media Companies (Fox, CBS) – you’d see very different strategies deployed by each side. All have one common goal in mind…control the distribution of entertainment to consumers, and all seems fair in this war. 

A “battle of attrition” aims to inflict losses on an enemy that are less sustainable compared to one’s own losses.

According to this New York Times, Netflix recently made a bold move by launching a new “streaming only” service, offering unlimited streaming movies and TV shows for a mere $7.99 a month. Also, in addition to Netflix paying the Post Office a whopping $500 million dollars a year in postage to mail out their signature red envelopes filled with disks, they will now pay studios another hefty sum for rights to their movies by recently completing a combined deal with Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate for one billion dollars. This does not include deals Netflix made earlier in the year with other major studios, such as Sony, Warner Brothers, Universal and 20th Century Fox.

So why are cable providers like Time Warner Cable and Comcast getting hot under the collar? Let’s take a closer look:

Netflix currently pays Starz, a pay TV channel, about 15 cents a month for each subscriber (which allows their customers to watch streaming movies from Sony and Disney), pennies compared to the $4 to $5 a month that cable and satellite owners pay for access to Starz, according to Rich Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG Research.

These types of deals, which allow consumers to access a larger catalogue of movies and bypass their local cable provider by accessing them online, couldn’t come at a worse time for companies like Time Warner Cable and Comcast. Cable providers already reported a net loss of 119,000 customers in the third quarter of 2010, the largest decline in 30 years.

A “battle of envelopment” involves an attack on one or both flanks.

Comcast is fighting back on two fronts by slapping Level 3 Communications, a provider of internet backbone services, which handles Netflix content, with “additional traffic fees.” Incidentally, Comcast, who’s acquisition of NBC is imminent, already competes directly with Netflix through their new acquisition of Hulu (Comcast owns 32 percent stake in Hulu). The rate hike could easily be seen as a way for Comcast to milk their competition, however, they can make the argument that Netflix’s massive volume is overtaxing their system and therefore should pay more. A recent study by Sandvine, a broadband equipment maker, showed that Netflix’s 16 million customers accounted for more than 20 percent of all Internet download traffic in North America during peak evening hours)

A “battle of encounter” is a meeting engagement where the opposing sides collide in the field without either having prepared their attack or defense.

If all of this wasn’t enough to make cable executives nervous, Netflix followed up their unlimited streaming offer by announcing a deal with newly formed film studio, FilmDistrict. As highlighted in this New York Observer article, the part of this deal that could prove to be a game changer is that it doesn’t include the standard “pay TV window” wherein new releases go to the cable industry first, then premier on Netlifx a few months later. 

According to The New York Post, Netflix is also in talks with studios about gaining access to “current episodes” of primetime TV shows and is willing to pay between $70,000 and $100,000 per episode. This is a first since Netflix has always offered only TV shows from past seasons.

Through all of this, media companies have been in constant negotiations with all of the “content distributors” – cable providers (Time Warner Cable and Comcast) and online providers (Netflix) – with behemoths like Google, Sony and Apple waiting in the wings as all three plan to compete in the game of online streaming distribution. Google, however, has already met heavy resistance from the networks. ABC, CBS, and NBC who all said they would not allow Google TV to stream full episodes of their shows. This should make for some interesting future negotiations between the two sides. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the networks suddenly changed their mind if Google TV’s relatively new service begins to take off.

A “battle of annihilation” is one in which the defeated party is destroyed in the field.

So what about the consumer, the eyeballs everyone’s vying for in all of this? I for one couldn’t be happier with all of the choices I suddenly have to watch movies or TV shows. The Internet is once again threatening the “middleman,” or, as I like to think of it, just another case of the Internet once again replacing one of the “brokers” of the world. We’ve seen it happen to some extent with real estate, stock trading … and now entertainment.  For 30 years cable providers have been the “brokers” for entertainment, bringing media and consumers together. It appears, for the moment at least, another “broker” is in jeopardy of once again being replaced by the Internet.

So what are your thoughts? Who do you think will win the on-going battle? Are you happy with the choices you have to access entertainment content? Please share your thoughts with me and the readers of BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas.