Attracting and Retaining Audiences in Times of Multiplatform

“Traditional” broadcasters had it easy. All they had to do was produce TV shows (or have someone else do it for them), fit them into a daily 18- or 24-hour grid based on certain criteria, and promote them on their own network and other mass media they weren’t in direct competition with.

Today’s broadcasters still have to perform these tasks, but it’s no longer enough to maintain their position in the market anymore, let alone maintain a strong and long-lasting relationship with their viewers.

To be successful, television can no longer simply be television in the same way that other media platforms that are increasingly moving in on others’ territory have become, in one way or another, multimedia (one service or application using multiple platforms) and even transmedia (one story conveyed across multiple platforms).

When launching its lineup for fall 2013, ICI Radio-Canada Télé highlighted the fact that every show on its schedule would have “added value” in the form of extra content on the internet like second-screen material, games, web series and social media dialogue.

Today’s audiences have access to such a wide variety of information, content and experiences on any platform at any given time that the level of content success and its value has become increasingly based on its ability of capturing, and especially, retaining viewer attention.

In this new interconnected and heavily cluttered media context, the first thing broadcasters must do is come up with a formula that will enable their content to rise above all the noise. The authors of the “Discoverability: Strategies for Canada’s Digital Content Producers in a Global Online Marketplace” study commissioned by the Canadian Media Production Association (CMPA) call this winning formula a content’s “level of discoverability.”


Tessa Sproule, director of digital content at CBC, has a catchy way of summarizing the situation: “Social is the new remote control.”

To achieve high levels of discoverability, content producers have a new set of tools they must learn how to use based on the nature of their product and the context it’s being launched in.

According to the creators and producers interviewed as part of the “Discoverability” study, the most effective of these new tools are (in order of importance):

  • Social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Search engines and related optimization techniques
  • Digital ad campaigns tied in with grassroots stunts (such as using Facebook to send out invitations to attend a special event or take part in a contest)
  • And at the very bottom of the list: traditional marketing techniques

The social platforms used most often are (in order) Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The key elements of a “discoverability” campaign are identification and early engagement of ‘influencers’, activation of fans who become advocates or superfans of a property, creation of marketing content tailored to the strengths of each platform employed and authentic and frequent communication with fans over multiple platforms.


There are a wide variety of tools out there to help broadcasters attract the attention of potential viewers when it comes to a given content. But even if they have the means of using these tools to their full potential, success is never guaranteed.

Want proof? Starlight Runner Entertainment CEO and transmedia expert Jeff Gomez took a close look at the transmedia marketing strategy used for the release of the Hollywood mega-production Prometheus. Here’s what he found out.

The campaign, which was launched with a trailer targeting potential superfans, quickly went viral on YouTube (3 million hits in two days) and on the “Project Prometheus” website where information about the film was revealed as visitors solved puzzles by working together. Another video released on YouTube – this one a fake TED conference (which was really shown at TED before a real audience of “influencers”) – also went viral (4 million hits).

So how did such an effective transmedia campaign fall flat in terms of box office results? The movie simply didn’t deliver on its promises. Contrary to what was shown throughout the campaign, the film was very dark and had a slightly schizophrenic feel to it. Audiences didn’t like being “duped” and spread some rather negative feedback about the movie. The final product didn’t meet the expectationsraised by the campaign. The film had a great opening weekend, but the overall box office take was not what producers had anticipated.


It’s the greatest discovery of the social web era: a cultural product that goes looking for its potential audience during its inception has a very good chance of seeing that audience grow into a loyal community (read our case study about Castle Story for a great example of the phenomenon). As long as the product delivers on its promises, of course. Remember Prometheus!

Creating an embryonic community from content conception is one of the things that tools like the ideaBOOST program – a digital content project accelerator – are trying to accomplish. By using new methods to engage viewers, they can validate the fit between an idea and its potential audience.

Dr. Marie-José Montpetit, a research scientist in the Research Laboratory on Electronics at MIT MediaLab whose work focuses on social TV (as she explains in this interview [in French] on Radio-Canada French radio), believes that, “Building communities is what social TVshould be all about.”

The new Netflix original series Orange is the New Black launched in early July 2013 is working very hard to keep its community interested. Most fans of the instant hit have already binge-viewed all 13 episodes so it’s important to find ways of keeping the buzz alive. And since the second season is already greenlit, producers are using a combination of social media initiatives to keep the dialogue surrounding the series and its characters flowing.

Today’s audiences are not only sophisticated, they’re solicited at every turn. They don’t have the same needs – or the same attitude – as “traditional” audiences did now that digital has rescued them from their passive role toward media. Fortunately, understanding this new reality and mastering the required tools should allow creators and producers to successfully develop, build and maintain a thriving community built around their content.

Danielle Desjardins
Danielle Desjardins offers analysis, research and writing services for media and cultural enterprises through her company, La Fabrique de sens. Before that, she was director of planning for Radio-Canada, where she was responsible for strategic, corporate and regulatory matters for more than 20 years.
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