Viewers are loyal to shows, not networks. It’s just how the business works. This may explain why for years executives have been tearing their virtual hair out trying to figure out ways to get those eyeballs to stay in place once a show ends.
The answer? Transmedia. Now that the Web has made multi-platform programming possible, content creators like AMC, Scripps and Bravo are finding more clever ways to keep those viewers around. Digital content has been around for a few years, but was usually little more than unrelated stories or behind-the-scenes fluff. But today, the “bonus” content is just as likely to be interwoven with the main series, putting viewers into an endless loop of content consumption.
“At Bravo, we rethought how we did storytelling,” says Lisa Hsia, exec VP digital for Bravo and Oxygen Media. “Transmedia storytelling has upped our network to an entirely new level, and it’s about platforms. Content is no longer relegated to one show, and digital content is not just extra footage.”
For example, that means a “Top Chef” viewer needs to watch more than just the series to know what’s going on. For season 11, there was a pre-series Web show, “Padma’s Picks,” in which a chef could win a slot on the main series. Then during the run of the series, a contestant who had been eliminated on the broadcast could get back to a spot in the finale by defeating other eliminated chefs on Web and VOD-only series “Last Chance Kitchen” (pictured left).
According to Hsia, 20% of “Top Chef” viewers tuned into the digital show, which usually ran between eight and 10 minutes long, a length they call “snackable.” But in order to understand what was going on in the main course, viewers had to consume the snacks.
Food Network has created several series to tie in with its on-air programming, and made them must-see TV: “Star Salvation” has to be watched to find out who will return to the “Food Network Star” competition after being eliminated. But Food Network’s extra programming often puts the spotlight on the talent: In “Chopped: After Hours,” (pictured right) the show’s judges have to face the same challenges the contestants labored under, and the structure is looser.
“It allows the fans to experience the talent in a more relaxed, offbeat, unguarded way,” says Bob Tuschman, Food Net g.m./senior VP. “It allows you to enjoy the talent in an unproduced way that has untold benefits.”
Food Network’s online shows earn tens of millions of audience interactions (“Star Salvation” has had 22 million since June 2013; “Chopped After Hours” has had 13 million since April 2013), numbers executives are certain boost the original series’ ratings, even if they don’t have stats to prove it.
“If we’re engaging fans outside the linear airing, it’ll get them more addicted to the storyline, and that pays off in ratings,” says Bob Madden, g.m./senior VP of digital food properties for Scripps, which owns Food.
But it’s not just about keeping viewers happy or extending brand loyalty. “Aftershows are cheap to produce and already have a built-in audience that’s involved,” says Billie Gold, VP and director of buying/programming research for Carat. “They’re extremely lucrative for networks.”
In part, that’s because if the audience is sticking around, so are the advertisers.
The post-“Walking Dead” chat series on AMC, “Talking Dead,” pulls in 40% of the original show’s audience — for a series that costs a fraction of the price of the original. And the numbers for the aftershow tend to top the network’s average in the key 18-49 demo, making it doubly valuable.
“An aftershow that pulls in a big rating means advertisers will clamor to be put in,” Gold says. “And they’ll pay a premium.”
Then there’s Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live,” a show that started out as an online property to promote “Project Runway,” and has since made a star out of Bravo network executive Andy Cohen, who exec produces and hosts. The series moved to the network in 2009, and has since become a combination of network PR arm (the “Real Housewives” make regular appearances) and wacky, alcohol-fueled talkshow.
“We never questioned whether this made sense for the brand,” says Jerry Leo, exec VP, program strategy and acquisitions, Bravo, Bravo Media and Oxygen Media. “We knew ‘Watch What Happens: Live’ was uniquely perfect for Bravo.”
In the end, aftershows are one of those rare things: a virtual guaranteed success fueled by network synergy. Cable is uniquely positioned to create such content and place it where viewers will want to watch. But for executives, there’s virtually no downside to a well-integrated aftershow.
“It works on all three fronts,” says Tuschman. “A win for passionate fans, a win for the show, which gets engagement with the viewers, and a win for advertisers who want to be on all of our platforms.”