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Tim Kring talks second-screen strategies

Showrunner sez authenticity is key in developing online extensions

Showrunner Tim Kring has developed a reputation for skillfully implementing innovative second-screen strategies on shows like “Heroes,” but his interest in the issue blossomed from a decidedly traditional problem: ratings.

The creator-exec producer of the Fox drama “Touch” told the crowd Wednesday at the MultiScreen Summit at Hollywood and Highland Center that his experience working on the NBC drama “Crossing Jordan” nearly a decade ago sparked his interest in finding alternate ways to reach viewers.

“We had only one way of reaching the audience, and that was on Monday nights at 9 o’clock on NBC,” Kring said. “Every week, the ratings were sliding for all of television, and I started to realize that if we were going to reach the audience where they were — and they seemed to be all over the place, on the Internet … smartphones, video games — if that’s where the audience was, that’s where we had to tell the story.”

The revelation led to the intricately developed NBC drama “Heroes,” which was among the first shows to offer original online content, interactive websites, mobile games and more — all in an effort to satisfy a ravenous audience from multiple fronts.

Yet though he espoused the recent growth of second-screen strategies, Kring was quick to emphasize the importance of storytelling over marketing, pointing out that dedicated fanbases can be quick to turn against that sort of move.

“That thin thread that connects you to your fanbase can be a very fragile one,” Kring said. “The most dangerous thing is in-authenticity, something they can smell immediately — they can sense when something is a marketing move or a promo for something else, and audiences reject it immediately.”

For “Heroes,” that meant taking advantage of the dearth of original material the creative team had produced and making sure to workshop second-screen plans as part of the storytelling process instead of applying them after the fact — even when the network had reservations about doing so.

“(Second-screen strategies) have to be baked in early instead of making it just marketing. But one of the problems with the network model is that most things don’t work — most things fail — and so it’s very hard for the network to invest early on,” Kring said.

Still, the ability to bring fans deeper into a storyline has showed Kring the importance — and the possibilities — of pushing more content onto second screens, a philosophy he doesn’t plan to ditch anytime soon.

“You see the power of the narrative has, to get people to come out of their realms and gather socially around a story they love,” Kring said, recalling his experience at Comic Con. “It’s a story world they just want to have more of.”

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