When a new piece of entertainment hits our screens, it’s rarely completely new to us — thanks to the surrounding assets that media companies feed audiences months in advance. It’s things like trailers, first look photos and key art that help build immersive “worlds” for viewers to get excited about, according to Scott Donaton, senior vice president and head of marketing at Hulu.

“When we talk to a show creator or showrunners, it’s really important that from the earliest possible point, we understand what story they want to tell in the world,” he said in the Variety Streaming Room presented by Facebook. “It really becomes this privilege, because our job becomes: ‘How do we take the story they’re telling, and tell a story about that story in a way that will pull people around our campfire?’”

Donaton continued: “And that to me doesn’t start with, ‘How do we create a certain asset?’ It’s really about, ‘What is the idea at the center of what we’re doing? And then, what are all the ways that that idea can come to life and connect with our audiences?’ So, of course, key art and trailers are always going to be important assets. But it’s really putting an idea at the center of what we do, and then having it come to life in as many meaningful ways as possible.”

Michael Engelman, chief marketing officer of Showtime, concurred. 

“I’ve been thinking a lot about the foundation of how to build worlds and start these campaigns. And the way I’m thinking about it these days is, it really starts with what is under the hood. Obviously, competition is so grueling for attention that even the most compelling advertising and promotion can be a bit of rain in the ocean if our methodological foundation isn’t rock solid.”

He continued: “We’re part entertainers, who are creating occasion and cultural events, and we need to cut through noise and create demand. And we’re also into intimacy. We’re thinking about creating one-to-one relationships and really understanding our customers, so we can make the right recommendation at the right time.”

Kimberly Paige, chief marketing officer of BET, said that it’s all about insight.

“Why does this content matter and how do we really invite them? I don’t really think about ‘targeting’ an audience. ‘Targeting,’ as a term, feels very predatory to me,” Paige said. “If you think about it, you’re in someone’s crosshairs when you’re being targeted. So I really think about, ‘What is that real invitation that we’re going to extend to that particular viewer?’”

Ellen Stone, executive vice president of entertainment brand strategy and consumer engagement for NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, also underlined the importance of connecting with fandoms. 

“What we’re digging deep into is, ‘How are we talking to the fandom of it all, [and] the communities within the fandom?’” Stone said. “[For example,] we have the ‘[Real] Housewives,’ but all the ‘Housewives’ are not the same — and yet, there is a thread and a through line that you can find. Data is definitely important to what we’re doing, but it’s also really heavy listening on who our fans are and what their engagement points are.”

James Smith, head of industry, entertainment and global marketing solutions at Facebook, explained the role of social media in all of these ideas. According to him, the future of entertainment is about locating audience communities all in once place. 

“You’ll probably hear a lot of conversation around the metaverse coming out of our camp right now, which as we define it, is a set of digital spaces that are all interconnected, allowing you to move between them. That is a heady thought that is in our vision, but it’s not going to happen overnight,” Smith said. “So when we think about how to work with entertainment, it’s, ‘What can we do now? And what can we do for the next year? And what tools and platforms do we have that can intersect with entertainment in different ways?’ So when we think about this ‘worlds’ narrative, we think about it as that first step towards the metaverse.”