Knowing the considerable challenges of launching a show in this era, cable network Fuse is testing out a new strategy. Dwayne Johnson’s Clash of the Corps debuted Oct. 5, but those truly curious about the docuseries—centered on the ultra-competitive world of drum corps—had actually watched the pilot a day before. Johnson, formerly known as The Rock, had introduced the premiere on Facebook Live for his 57 million followers 24 hours before linear launch.
For Michael Schwimmer, Fuse Media president/ CEO, the Facebook Live play represents only upside for the multicultural, millennial-focused network. “It makes sense for so many reasons,” he says. “It’s terrific promotion for the series, and a great way to reach so many people that you otherwise wouldn’t reach.”
Networks once worried that “leaking” a premiere on a digital platform would eat away at opening night Nielsens. But the need to generate pre-launch buzz generally outweighs concerns about cannibalizing ratings. “Program producers in the current environment are trying to get their shows seen, and they don’t really care where their audiences find them,” says Dominic Caristi, Ball State telecommunications professor. “They need to break through all the clutter, and trusting that people will see a show at a specific time on a specific channel in this on-demand environment is unrealistic.”
Hack My Premiere
Fuse is one of several networks deploying this strategy. Playing off the hit series’ hacker theme, USA Network dropped the season two premiere of Mr. Robot early on a variety of social platforms in July, including Snapchat and Twitter. On Sept. 23, Issa Rae, creator and star of HBO comedy Insecure, took to You-Tube to inform users that the pilot was available to stream on HBO Now, weeks before its Oct. 9 TV debut. HBO deployed a similar strategy with summer crime series The Night Of.
Showtime took it a step further, making the season seven premiere of Shameless available on YouTube and Sho.com before its Oct. 2 debut, even for non-subscribers. Showtime also offers, at times, free preview weekends with its multichannel video programming distributor partners in an effort to convince consumers they can’t live without Showtime.
The premium cable net has prereleased series and season launches dating back to Californication. “Very early on, we realized this is an important marketing tactic to expand the awareness for a show,” says Kim Lemon, Showtime executive VP, research, program planning and scheduling. Lemon says cannibalization concerns faded almost immediately. “There’s way more benefit in terms of awareness and the conversation it generates,” he notes.
The early release trend happens primarily at cable networks, though broadcast too has popped premieres early, albeit not typically on social platforms. NBC, for one, aired comedies Telenovela and Superstore over the 2015 winter holiday season, leading up to their official premieres in January.
Back at Fuse, Schwimmer is thinking about how the launch strategy for Clash of the Corps, a first for the rebranded network, may work for other series premieres. “Facebook Live has really taken off and there’s a lot more viewing going on on mobile devices,” he says. “I see it as a big boost.”