How WGN America Used New Technologies to Launch “Bellevue”

By Thought Leaders Archives
Cover image for  article: How WGN America Used New Technologies to Launch “Bellevue”

If your programming service is taking a new direction with original programming, why not introduce new approaches to marketing and promotion that will spread awareness among viewers?  WGN America this past month has done exactly that on behalf of Bellevue, the first of its upcoming slate of original scripted series with a crime or mystery focus.  Not only were several marketing components used for the first time, in more than one instance they were the first used by any programmer to launch or otherwise promote a series.

“We wanted to be innovative with the campaign, using new technologies to reach new viewers and broaden our overall reach,” explained Brian Dollenmayer, WGN America’s Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer.  “The landscape is more crowded than ever.  You have to take some chances and find unique ways to reach viewers.  America loves crime stories and solving mysteries, so more than ever, we’re embracing that.”

Bellevue, which premiered January 23rd, focuses on the disappearance of a high school hockey star in the town the series is named after, and if there’s a connection with the murder of a young woman two decades earlier in the same area.  Academy Award-winner Anna Paquin (pictured at top and below) stars as the local police detective investigating the situation.  Three more original crime/mystery series will debut on WGN America in the coming months, starting with Shoot the Messenger on February 26.

Social media had a major promotional role in Bellevue’s rollout.  However, instead of putting full emphasis on Facebook and Twitter -- the usual social media suspects for generating buzz --Dollenmayer and his colleagues complemented those two platforms with a second pair of Web social destinations.  The less prominent but highly engaging additions are USeek, which allows users to interact with videos to vie for prizes, and the Telfie app, which invites fans to check in while watching a show and connect with other fans to unlock stickers pertaining to specific subjects (see image below).  In the process, Telfie generates a list of users who can meet and exchange comments on the subject on display.

Before the debut of Bellevue, Dollenmayer and his team created a custom 60-second trailer of Bellevuefor USeek, inviting users to hunt for clues and earn points for prizes, such as $250 Visa gift cards, which were awarded to users who correctly solved the mystery.  More than 33 percent of people watching the trailer stayed with it to the end; the level of repeat viewers, estimated by Dollenmayer at three times each, was also very strong.

While USeek had executed a number of campaigns involving movie studios, Bellevuewas the first TV series to launch with the platform, generating higher video completion rates compared to the typical trailers.  “A typical completion rate for a long-form video on social media was nowhere near 33 percent,” Dollenmayer said.  “It’s been more on the order of two to three percent.  We know how hard it is for someone to watch a video [from start to finish] online.   The fans here were engaged. They played along. They had a reason to watch.”

Ann Glenn, who heads up WGN America’s social media outreach team, suggested the use of Telfie.  It has sparked more than 500,000 social impressions as of the end of January.

A trio of promotional partnerships also supported Bellevue’s launch.  W Hotels’ Bellevue, Washington, location presented the first episode to guests via closed-circuit transmission from January 16 to 23.  In return, WGN America’s social media outreach awarded trips to that hotel through a special giveaway campaign.  W Hotels conducted a similar showcase at its Hollywood location.  Separately, WGN America ran an on-air sweepstakes titled “Watch & Win” with the Northern California-based winery owned by Oscar-winning filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. Viewers watching the first two Bellevue episodes could enter the sweepstakes to win a three-day tour of the California wine country.  Coppola’s organization offered discounts on individual wine selections to viewers, using a code process (see image below).

By far the most unique play by WGN involved the coloring book app Colorfy.  A free experience available through Google Play and the AppStore, Colorfy released an illustration pertaining to Bellevue’s storylines after each episode Tuesday night, for fans to color, use at will and place it on their social media pages.  “They consider it online therapy as [viewers] sit and color [Colorfy’s content],” Dollenmayer explained.  “Colorfy loved the idea and thought the show’s content was perfect for their audience.  Plus, they ran the trailer within the app, so we received added promotion.”

WGN America also worked with agency RED Interactive to create a game that is essentially a prequel to Bellevue via a specially-created feature in Facebook’s Messenger chat app.  The chatbot offered a choose-your-own-adventure-style game allowing users to partake in a text chat with images and look for clues to solve a mystery.  Those who don’t succeed and get killed in the process go backward in the game while those who, like Paquin’s character, decipher clues continue to advance.  So far, the average viewing time of this chat space is nine minutes, and more than 35 percent of viewers have completed the game, which typically runs 15-20 minutes.  “To stay on a social site for that long [indicates] an incredibly high engagement rate,” said Dollenmayer.

Before any promotional initiatives were introduced, WGN’s marketing staff consulted withBellevue’s producers.  “They let us know the important themes, then they let us handle them,” Dollenmayer continued.  “They had complete faith and trust we would position the show correctly and were very supportive along the way.”

Dollenmayer believes this assortment of campaign tactics accomplished WGN America’s mission to generate and extend Bellevue’s appeal beyond a core audience of mystery lovers age 25-54.  The opening episode and its six encores reached more than 2.2 million viewers (all but two running at 10 p.m. local time).  He feels these kinds of unique marketing initiatives helped spur WGN America to its ranking as the No. 1 entertainment network in growth on cable in 2017 and aims to continue the effort for Shoot the Messenger and other forthcoming WGN America originals.

“I want to keep innovating and come up with new ideas so each of our campaigns feels fresh, organic and new to our audience,” Dollenmayer said.  He is optimistic that upcoming campaign elements will be directed at the more than 60 percent of U.S. households with smart TV sets and TV-connected devices.  Ditto for the fast-growing percentage of those homes with artificial intelligence-powered voice controls such as Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri built into those sets and devices.  “We’re talking to a lot of those people about what is possible,” he acknowledged.  “That is the future, just years ahead, months ahead, days ahead, where people will continue to watch TV.  We know we have to move in that direction.”

Bellevue is telecast Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on WGN America.

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