Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Turning a launch into an event

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast December 17, 2015

Expect more experimental release models in 2016, says Kate Bulkley

With the launch of the seventh movie in the series, Star Wars has taken over our lives again – and there have been a few big-scale moments in TV lately too.

Earlier this month, Discovery trumpeted the near simultaneous broadcast of Racing Extinction, a campaigning environmental documentary that aired on Discovery across its 220 markets within hours of one another. This was ‘event TV’ on a global scale.

The US live+3-day figure was impressive: 11.5 million viewers. It was the most-watched doc on US cable networks in three years, and it has had more than 100 million interactions on social media.

Meanwhile, Sky unveiled multi-language co-pro drama The Last Panthers to 21 million subscribers across the UK, Germany and Italy within an hour of each other. This was both strategic, showing Sky can commission a pan-European drama, and a neat bit of marketing.

“The critical thing for us is that we are doing this with brand new, big programmes,” said Sky Atlantic director Zai Bennett. “We have got to make them famous at the beginning, and it is all about how you leverage the tools you have.”

With programming it owns, or co-owns, in particular, Sky can experiment. A total of 100,000 Sky subscribers downloaded part one of The Last Panthers before its official TX (because they were told they could) and another 300,000 were – as a test market – given access to the full series on the same day as the TX of episode one, though Sky won’t yet say how many of the test panel binge-viewed the entire series. “Horses for courses is a really important thing,” says Bennett.

“For comedy, people are not that desperate to immediately watch the next one, but with serialised drama, there is something interesting we can do.”

It is all about moving towards a more hybrid release model that will play to Sky’s platform strengths.

Half of all viewing of Sky Atlantic programmes is non-linear. Sky says some 1.1 million viewers in the UK have now watched episode one of The Last Panthers via its TV broadcast, 400,000 on-demand downloads and over the top through Now TV and Sky Go. On average, the series is reaching a consolidated audience of around 400,000 viewers.

Expect increasing numbers of simulcasts and ‘event TV’ and more hybrid release models in 2016. Used properly, they can lift a channel or TV service’s profile, or help a campaigning doc make a bigger splash.

Live works a treat in some situations; on-demand and binge access works well in others. Audiences increasingly expect choice. I call it ‘feeding the binge’ – Netflix pioneered it with its simultaneous release of entire TV series and there’s been no looking back.

After all, with JJ Abrams and Star Wars as a template, TV has a pretty profitable act to follow in terms of feeding the audience – one UK cinema chain alone sold half a million tickets for Star Wars weeks before it had opened. Even a little bit of that viewing mania would be welcomed by TV giants such as Sky and Discovery – may the force be with them.

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