Ahead of its final season of flagship show Spartacus, Starz is trying something new: a vast suite of second-screen applications called The Battle for Nuceria—social-media based mini-games, content starring the show's actors, and "missions" that take the player all over the show's ancient-world setting. But it's the show's final season.
"I think, one, regardless of it being the last season, we want to reward the fans," said Kelly Bumann, svp of digital marketing for the network.
Increasingly, marketers are relying on involved fan service to get the word out about scripted shows; the best advertisement, after all, is a testimonial from your friends, and Starz has fed its fandom at Comicon and elsewhere as the series has gone through changes. Lead actor Andy Whitfield died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, but the series was able to maintain its fan following, so Battle for Nuceria is a way to give the fans a last hurrah before the series heads off to Elysium Fields after its last story, War of the Damned. "The missions tie specifically to the plotline, and you play as part of a rebel army, and you have a voice in that army," said Erin Dwyer, exec director of digital marketing for originals. "This group will be able to watch the first episode of the final season before the premiere date, if you do your mission."
But of course, TV networks don't spend money to say thank you. "DaVinci's Demons comes right after Spartacus, and without being overt, we're trying to get them to stick around and see what comes next," Bumann said.
In fact, a lot of Battle for Nuceria seems tailor-made for sponsorship, but doesn't have a sponsor plugged in. You can "train" your character in the games by checking in at a gym, but not a specific gym. You can buy supplies by checking in at a grocery stores, but not a specific grocery store.
They'll say, "'The rebel army's in need of provisions and strength,' so if you're in a town that doesn't have a Crunch or a 24, you can check-in at any fitness location." And did Starz look for folks to help bear the cost of the complex program? "We did explore that—from a marketing perspective, we do want to find synergistic partners." For now, it's just for fun, but as Starz launches Da Vinci's Demons, it seems likely that the network will be exploring ways to bring in advertisers who can help promote the transmedia experience.
This isn't an isolated idea. Along with yet more gaming product around Spartacus (network partner Ubisoft is launching a free-to-play fighting game called Gods of the Arena on XBox Live Arcade next year), other networks like AMC and Syfy are experimenting with transmedia experiences of different dimensions—Syfy the wildly ambitious massively-multiplayer online game/TV series Defiance with Trion Worlds developing the game component; AMC a multi-installment game from legendary adventure gaming developer Telltale around its hit series The Walking Dead. As scripted series bleed onto other screens with other capabilities, scripted producers are taking the next logical step and looking for ways to include the viewer in the story.