For two weeks before the launch of the ten-episode series “CSI: Vegas,” CBS will drop clues to a new case daily across social media, on its air, and across other networks owned by parent ViacomCBS. Followers who figure things out will be rewarded with a virtual meet-and-greet with the cast and creators of the show as well as an advance screening of the debut episode. The series is a sequel, of sorts, to the original “CSI,” which ran on CBS for 15 seasons and launched a broader franchise of forensic whodunnit dramas on the network.
TV networks have long tested all kinds of interesting gimmicks aimed at getting people to try a new show. That task has become exponentially more difficult in the streaming era, and Mike Benson, president and chief marketing officer of CBS, says he’d like to try to capture consumer interest with content that reminds people of the program rather than clever marketing pitches that feel like commercials.
“CSI” already has “a rabid fan base,” says Benson, but the network can’t take that for granted. “Yes, it has a known and recognizable name, but we also want to do a lot to lean into this so people are aware that it’s back and it’s new, with a new story.”
In its day, “CSI” was a powerhouse, spawning separate editions based in Miami and New York and even one that focused on cybercrime. The last season of the original series generated more than $37.6 million in advertising, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending.
Getting viewers excited about the program “is one of our top priorities,” says Benson. The first clue surfaced Wednesday morning on Facebook.
The executive says the puzzles will continue and will even dovetail with plotlines in the new series. Anthony Zuiker, the executive producer, has lent a hand and is involved in the mysteries.
Fans may even see some “real world” elements to the sleuthing, says Benson, who kept details to a minimum. “There may be an opportunity for physical evidence,” he hints.
Benson has experience turning TV programs into games. In 2006, while working for Disney’s ABC, he had a hand in creating a gaming experience for the enigmatic drama “Lost” that required fans to use digital media to follow a storyline. He also helped create a website for Oceanic Airlines, the fictional air carrier whose plane was an instrumental part of that show, which followed a group of people whose plane crash-landed on a mysterious island.
“This is a very different type of game play,” says Benson. “That was more about bringing people into a special world. This is really about the audience solving a specific mystery.” Both concepts, however, offer a valuable lesson for the people trying to cajole audiences to try new programing. “People enjoy playing along with what we do,” says Benson.