Defiance is coming April 1, and it's coming in a Mad Maxed-out Dodge Challenger. The massively multiplayer online game will drop at the beginning of the cruelest month, two weeks before the April 15 premiere of the television series on Syfy, and the stakes have rarely been higher for the network. NBCUniversal has invested some $100 million in the hybrid game/TV series, and Dodge has become a major part of the plan, with the company's resurrection of the Dart as the linchpin in the client integration.
One of the series' largest hurdles was selling all that ad inventory early in the year before the show. Mark Malmstead, senior manager of media at Dodge, says that the first-of-its-kind aspect of the series appeals to him, as does the nerdier business of seeing one of his company's vehicles "retrofitted with pipes and big tires and machine guns and things like that." The Challenger will appear in the game, and the Dodge Dart and Charger will be featured prominently on the series itself—the show even has a burnt-out old Dodge dealership as one of its sets.
"I would say it was January or February when we started bringing it out [to advertisers]," said Linda Yaccarino, head of ad sales for NBCUniversal. "What we had back then was a little bit more than seeds of an idea. We started meeting very, very early on with clients to put some context on what the vision was for this. … It's hard to even call it a program." Yaccarino wouldn't comment on the size of the deal, but she did say that the show was "a very big part of the upfront for the entire cable portfolio."
Syfy network president Dave Howe called the venture "true transmedia." It's not a video game with a TV series spinoff or a TV series with a tie-in game. The universe from both products extends across the boundaries of either medium, so that the viewer can also wander around the world of the show taking part in the battles central to the post-apocalyptic story that's being played out weekly on the network.
Howe added, "What's really fantastic is that Comcast and the new owners, even more than the old owners, have made it a big priority. They see it as the way this business will evolve. Because it's such a sophisticated high-definition game, it's going to soak up a lot of bandwidth, which is great from a cable perspective."
And Dodge is glad to be in on the ground floor even though a big chunk of its investment won't be measurable in Nielsen GRPs. "We'll monitor the ratings and social engagement, all the typical measures, but primarily we want to impact a youthful, interactive audience," Malmstead said. If that seems like a risk for the motor company, consider its goals for the Dart. "[Our ideal consumer for the Dart] can be difficult to reach because they don't sit and watch TV like they used to. It's what we frequently call the millennial audience. It's 18-34-year-olds. They like to interact, they're going to interact with our brand and there will be a lot of social interactions with this," he added.
And that's the holy grail that Howe, Yaccarino and all of NBCU are promising with Defiance: young people. The venture is by no means a guaranteed success, but it's the best hope anybody who isn't ESPN or Adult Swim has offered of bringing under-35s back to linear TV. Many networks seem to have given up on the younger generation already, reasoning that the baby boom produced a huge number of affluent, TV-loving consumers. Really, any show marketed to that group ought to be called Defiance.