Cable Operators

'Gilligan’s’ VOD Twist

10/31/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

While cable operators continue to refine the business model for video-on-demand, programmers are at work exploring what the platform can do for program marketing, promotion and sampling.

Two weeks ago, TBS launched a multi-pronged VOD effort that other basic-cable programmers are likely to watch. It offered a sneak preview of its new series The Real Gilligan’s Island — which isn’t slated to debut until Nov. 30 — via Comcast Corp.’s on- demand platform.

The previews let viewers watch auditions for the roles of skipper, first mate, farm girl, millionaire and wife and professor. After viewing the performances, they could go to Comcast’s High-Speed Internet portal (www.comcast.net) and select which person should be cast in that role.

Viewers who guess correctly will be entered into a random drawing, with the winner getting a grand prize trip for two to the British Virgin Islands.

Once The Real Gilligan’s Island premieres, episodes will be available via VOD days after airing on TBS. The first three episodes, set for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, will be available Dec. 5.

Episodes four through six, which air Dec. 7 and 8, will be on VOD starting Dec. 12, and episodes seven and eight are set for Dec. 19. TBS On Demand also features the music video of the Gilligan theme song, performed by Bowling for Soup, as well as behind-the-scenes footage from casting sessions.

For TBS and Comcast, it’s a chance to use VOD as a sampling platform for linear television.

“We believe it is a breakthrough,” said Turner Network Sales executive vice president of sales and marketing Coleman Breland. “We looked at Gilligan as a great opportunity.”

Part of that opportunity stemmed from the 10,000 people who showed up at various casting calls around the country.

“There is some really entertaining content here,” said Breland — clips that normally wouldn’t get seen by the viewing public. The auditions cover five candidates for each slot, amounting to 30 minutes in total.

At the same time, TBS was talking to Comcast about VOD content the network could bring to that platform, Breland said.

The VOD prequel also works well with TBS’s marketing strategy for the show: a total news blackout as to which actors or actresses were cast in the series.

TBS senior vice president of marketing Tricia Melton said: “We’re not showing any of the castaways in any marketing materials. We believe it really sparks curiosity among people.”

Said Melton: “We’re scratching the surface on learning. It’s a tremendous learning opportunity. There are lots of opportunities to experiment with advertisers in some cases.”

Comcast will back the VOD launch with a host of marketing tactics, Melton said, including cross-channel spots, a spot radio buy, bill stuffers, barker-channel information, targeted e-mail messages, digital set-top box messaging, direct mail and displays at shopping malls in November.

Along with Gilligan, TBS On Demand is offering episodes of The Mansion, a half-hour Saturday-morning program that features home makeovers. Episodes of The Mansion are also available online.

The Mansion Expansion VOD programming goes into greater detail on how to approach home-renovation projects. TBS has produced eight episodes of Mansion, which premiered in early October.

TBS also plans to screen one-hour episodes of He’s a Lady (which premiered Oct. 19) via VOD. The program gives 11 men the opportunity to walk in their wives’ or girlfriends’ shoes.

It’s TBS’s first VOD foray. “The first thing we want to figure out is what’s the behavior on VOD, what does it mean to a reality series, does it help them to catch up if they miss one?” Breland asked. “We want to figure out, 'What does this mean to a programmer and an affiliate?’ We want people to love the programming on the network.”

If VOD helps build enthusiasm for linear airings of the series, he said, it will be worth the effort. It’s an initiative that does not come without costs: TBS has waded through some 10,000 interviews for its on-demand content.

The Comcast announcement also has had a ripple effect. Breland said TBS is talking to affiliates about getting Gilligan content onto other MSOs’ servers in advance of the series’ Nov. 30 premiere.

September