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An inside look at Epitome Pictures’ social TV strategy for ‘Degrassi’

While “social TV” didn’t exist twelve years ago, young and passionate TV fans definitely did. Epitome Pictures’ “Degrassi”, a Canadian teen soap, is set to premiere it’s twelfth season (12b to be exact) tonight at 9pm ET on Teen Nick. Their use of digital and social TV has helped them keep the show relevant as new audiences get introduced to the different characters. They’ve strategically grown their presence across mobile as well. We interviewed Stephen Stohn, the Executive Producer of Degrassi and the President of Epitome Pictures Inc. about their social TV strategy and growth.

Degrassi has done what most teen shows can’t do – survive. Dawson’s Creek made it six seasons. The OC made it five and a half (does that last season even really count). Even Gossip Girl is coming to an end this year. Degrassi on the other hand has thrived by evolving its cast and creating new and compelling story lines for their demographics. Drake, now one of the biggest rappers in the world started off his career in the spotlight on Degrassi. In addition to strong content, social TV has been a part of the show’s mix since 2000. Stohn describes “Degrassi.tv, an interactive web community where fans could interact with characters, have their own virtual locker and chat on forums about topic issues that they were face.”

Stohn has been in the entertainment industry for forty years and has EPed eleven seasons of Degrassi and is also the EP for The LA Complex (which airs on The CW), a show about “six young performers striving for stardom in Hollywood.” Their big social TV push for the new season is to unify their social properties to reward fan interactions. They’ve smartly invested in creating official character social accounts (not just show accounts) and then finding ways to integrate them into story lines. Stohn also details his team’s devotion to one-on-one communications with fans both online and offline. This is one of the best social TV strategies and executions to-date, one that every social TV practitioner should study closely.

Lost Remote: What’s Degrassi’s social TV strategy for the new season?
Stephen Stohn: The Degrassi Social TV Strategy for season 12 is to develop a digital dashboard that rewards interactions with Degrassi properties – broadcast, online streaming, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Google+, the Degrassi Web site on MuchMusic (our broadcaster in Canada) and our Degrassi mobile game in real-time. The connectivity between all the digital offerings will enhance the value of fan engagement and the brand. The dashboard will track points gained through engaging with the broadcast (i.e. live tweeting the show), and online properties (i.e. reblogging photos from the official Degrassi.tumblr.com account, sharing Degrassi blogs from MuchMusic.com). The Degrassi dashboard will be hosted on Muchmusic.com/Degrassi and the Degrassi Chat App. The dashboard will act as a hub to connect all existing Degrassi properties, while providing rewards and points for engagement.

LR: How have you kept the show going using social over all the seasons?
Stohn: Over the past few years, we have found interesting ways to integrate social into the overall storytelling in the series. Degrassi is a unique series in that there are over 20 different principal characters and not all characters are seen in every episode. So, in Season 9, we created official character role-playing accounts, which would keep the storytelling alive between broadcast and between character arcs. We like to think of it as the producer and writer’s take on the very popular fan fiction community that had arisen from our series. We have also found new ways to integrate the fictional character accounts into the broadcast itself. In our summer Season 12 episodes, we featured a storyline around a trending topic and the character account @TrueClare and as the season goes on, we’ll find that the social communities on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook (or as we call it, FaceRange) on the series, will play a large part in the story.

LR: What’s the growth been? How do you track?
Stohn: We monitor analytics through our broadcaster ratings, video views, Google analytics, HootSuite, and App Flurry. We have also monitored growth through engagement with our Degrassi Dashboard on muchmusic.com, where we have access to the number of people successfully completing missions, triggering badges, rewards, and time spent on the content within our Degrassi pages.

LR: What partners do you work with?
Stohn: Currently, we have partnered with MuchMusic our broadcaster in Canada, our funding agencies that support our programs, including the CMF, The Bell Fund, and are working with vendors Badgeville, BitHeads and Mobovivo.

LR: Do you work on social TV for Canadian and US broadcasts? If so, how do they differ?
Sohn: We try to keep our social and online strategy for Degrassi trans-jurisdictional. The idea is that we want to keep the brand name and stories strong, and as long as the content is good, it is something that is marketable and appealing to both Canadian and American audiences. Currently, we broadcast day and date in Canada and the U.S. Also, when it comes to online content, we try to create a Degrassi branded and community experience that is inclusive of both territories. However, our Degrassi dashboard- currently on Muchmusic.com is specific to the Canadian audience in the rewards we offer.

LR: How do you cultivate Degrassi fans? LA Complex fans?
Stohn: For Degrassi fans, we’ve always tried to maintain a one-on-one relationship. Our marketing and communications team make an effort to reach out to bloggers, talk to our fans, respond to all fan mail requests and organize meet and greet opportunities (such as the mall tour we just completed this summer with TeenNick) for fans and the cast. The Degrassi series is about inclusivity, community, and fostering discussion amongst us and the fans. As well as the fans with each other.

The L.A. Complex audience is very different than the Degrassi fan. However, there are some big similarities. There is always a very engaged response on the L.A. Complex FB page and on the twitter accounts- a “how do I get involved” in the series type of attitude. Both social media channels help connect fans with one another, so they can talk about the series, as well as get extra content. It’s all about makings strong content available on all branded pages, so that fans know where to look, or to get a response from the community managers and the show’s communications team.

LR: Which social platforms are most popular? How does the cast use social?
Stohn: The Degrassi online ecosystem is a fascinating place! We like to utilize each social platform in a strategic and resource efficient way, staying flexible to the behaviours of the users within each of the platforms. We use Google+ for great hangouts with cast members, our Tumblr page to post photos and to join the community in creating gifs, memes and highlighting special moments from the series! We like to give the users a diverse social experience where they can connect with the brand in any social network and different types of content- fictional through storytelling and behind the scenes content too. Our cast is really great with social media, and many of them have verified twitter accounts, whosay pages, and official facebook fan pages. They’re very engaged and open to connecting with their fans and starting a dialogue. We are very fortunate to have such a supportive fan base and the producers and cast are appreciative and open to communicating with them.

LR: PLL, geared towards a similar demo has owned social TV recently, do you find it challenging to outdo them?
Stohn: PLL has done a great job engaging with fans through social and web series! It is not really about ‘outdoing’ or competing against shows with similar demographics…it’s about finding a social TV component and experience that suits the brand, the storytelling, and the fan base. Ultimately, a social TV extension needs to be authentic to the core values of the series. Degrassi is about inclusivity, community, and the high school experience. We find ways to keep that at the center of all our efforts, from the very beginning when we created Degrassi.tv in 2000- an interactive web community where fans could interact with characters, have their own virtual locker and chat on forums about topic issues that they were face. We have also created webisodes in the past which are fun, fantastical and suspend the series in a fun hyperbolic state! I think the best part about working with a teen audience is that we want to stay social, stay top of mind, and continuously create new stories that suit the platform. Last season, we created the Degrassi Mobile game which was a 6 episode “choose your own conversation” adventure game, where you can interact with the characters and trigger different endings. Based on gender, orientation, and the way you chose to interact with individual characters, would determine your ending! This type of nuance is something that we were able to do that stayed true to our brand, our fans, and was an authentic social TV experience. Also, in time with our Degrassi Season 12B October 12th premiere, we are launching the Degrassi Chat app for iOS to facilitate a true co-viewing experience. We’re always finding ways to make it easier for the community to engage with one another and with the series.

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