Website helps fans friend shows

SocialSamba offers viewers interactive experiences

A website that gives fans a chance to connect to their favorite TV characters is providing shows a platform to use that energy to promote the programs.

A little more than a year ago, Aaron Williams was talking to his buddies about how fun it would be to “friend” characters like Homer Simpson or George Costanza on Facebook. Taking that line of thinking to its logical conclusion, Williams co-founded SocialSamba, a site that launched late last year, which allows fans of such skeins as USA Networks’ “Psych” and films like the Warner Bros./Alcon Entertainment pic “Dolphin Tale” to go a step further than friending; it allows them to interact with those characters’ stories.

Here’s how it works. A studio creates a script for an interactive experience containing text, audio, photography and/or video content, which SocialSamba’s technology brings to life on the Internet.

The requests go both ways: Studios and networks seek out SocialSamba to create scripted fan engagement, and Social Samba approaches prospective clients to do the same.

Studios determine the length of the fan interaction. USA Networks designed a seven-week hunt for the Hashtag Killer for “Psych” in which fans become the assistant of the skein’s main characters in a search for a murderer. For Warner Bros.’ and Alcon Entertainment’s “Joyful Noise,” meanwhile, the interation can take less than an hour, with “Joyful Noise” fans auditioning for the film’s choir.

Most Social Samba scripts are written in a choose-your-own-adventure style, where the fan’s choices determine characters’ responses and endings; characters call fans by name. MTV will tie its second-season premiere of “Teen Wolf” to the June 4 launch of “Teen Wolf: The Hunt,” which will feature a storyline similar, but not identical, to that of the TV skein.

SocialSamba activity for “Joyful Noise” and “Dolphin Tale” takes place on Facebook, while Hashtag Killer had its own website, with fans able to link it to their Facebook pages, helping the studios to spread the word about the projects.

The Hashtag Killer experience has 400,000 participants. More important, it has created “upwards of 80 million impressions on Facebook and Twitter,” says Jesse Redniss, senior VP of digital for USA Networks. “It’s nearly impossible to buy that type of exposure.”