Creative & Tech Mobile Marketing Social Media

Beyond the Screen: How TV Shows are Extending the Story to Digital

April 23, 2013

What was the latest great story you read? Maybe not read, but watched? Or heard? For me, it was the GIRLS episode “I Get Ideas.” Lena Dunham hit it out of the park again with a raw story to which every 20-something girl could relate.

An immense amount of time and effort goes into developing a great narrative—and no one knows this better than the brilliant writers within the television industry. To captivate an audience and ensure consistent tune-in, their stories must seamlessly evolve week after week—from the complexity of the characters to the bread and butter plot points.

TV networks are getting savvy about the ways in which they keep conversations (and the story) going before, during and after a program airs. In the past, conversations dwindled when shows were between seasons. But now, networks are providing fans immersive experiences—even while their favorite shows are on hiatus.

Extending the story into digital not only prolongs the life of a show—whether it’s a plot point or character progression—but keeps it top of mind, encouraging people to continue talking about it and making it a constant reminder within fans’ social feeds.

Below are some inspiring examples that marketers should all pay attention to—regardless of if they work in the TV industry or not.

BRAVO Uses Bravolebrity Voices to Extend Plot Lines

Bravo TV boasts a multitude of reality stars with distinct, out of this world voices and storylines that are consistently leveraged throughout social to keep conversation and tune-in up week over week—not to mention between seasons. In some cases, these unique voices command an audience of millions. Stars like Andy Cohen, Lisa Vanderpump and Lilly Ghalichi, for example, successfully engage their audiences online with behind-the-scenes peeks and exclusive interviews.

MTV’s Awkward Character Extension— @SadieSaxtonSays

Despite it being unclear whether or not MTV owns this spin-off Twitter handle, the execution is exceptional. Sadie Saxton, one of the standout, comedic characters of Awkward, was given a second life on Twitter—and she seems to be quite popular—racking in more than 94 thousand followers. In turn, this means that her nearly 100 thousand fans are reminded multiple times every day that Awkward and its characters are a part of their lives.

Pretty Little Liars —Pretty Dirty Secrets Webisodes

ABC Family extended its Pretty Little Liars‘ storyline beyond the final episode into an online webisode series last fall. The eight-episode series—which aimed to hold over fans until the next season—was hosted on the ABC website and aired every week with social feed integrations. Another recent example of creating digital-only programming comes from Oxygen. The network recently partnered with 360i to create a webisode ahead of its Find Me My Man premiere.

Downton Abbey — Immersive, Interactive App

The Brits are at it again with this (paid) mobile application that allows fans to peek behind the curtain of their favorite Downton characters, getting to know them and their homes on another level. Users can see firsthand what it’s like to be Lady Mary—or any other character they choose—in this visually rich and interactive app.

GIRLS Hypes Path to Premiere with Storify

Lena Dunham & Co. granted fans insider access to the production stage of Season 2 with aggregated tweets and Instagram photos in Storify. The execution revealed the fun (and often ridiculous) journey to the completion of their fans’ favorite show.

Shameless — Shareable Storybook

In an effort to catch fans up on past seasons, Shameless produced a three-minute clip in the form of a traditional fairytale—with no sort of fairytale ending. While it’s not the most robust example of transmedia storytelling, the creative execution did its job.

What to Expect in the Future?

We’ll likely see the evolution of storytelling continue down a more collaborative path—and not only in digital interactions, but in the full-blown production of a show. CBS’ Hawaii Five-0 and USA Network’s Psych are already getting fans involved in their plot lines.

For the season finale of Hawaii Five-0, the team at CBS crowdsourced, in real-time, the show’s murder mystery ending. Viewers voted by tweeting one of three hashtags (#theStudent, #theTA, or #theBoss), each representing one of three possible endings. Similarly, to celebrate the 100th episode of Psych, 360i client USA Network invited East and West coast fans to vote for how the episode would end in their region. Relinquishing this reign (in moderation, of course) undoubtedly draws more attention, drives more engagement and increases show loyalty.

Brands outside of the entertainment industry can take a page from the playbook by finding and establishing a unique voice in social, and coupling that with content their fans care about.