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How STARZ is using social TV with ‘Boss’ and ‘Spartacus’

As the year comes to an end, it’s a good time to reflect on some of the best television shows from this fall. There’s been a handful of new successes from the premium cable channels, which is no surprise since they’re able to be riskier and raunchier not having to answer to advertisers and broadcast standards. The premium cable space is also much smaller, so it’s often even more competitive than broadcast and cable. Since 2009′s cult-favorite Party Down (which is now being made into a movie) STARZ has been smartly investing in more original programming as the network competes in the premium cable world that has constantly benefited TV fans with superb content.

This fall has been a significant one for STARZ as they launched Boss and prepare to launch season two of Spartacus. Boss, a drama staring Kelsey Grammar as Chicago Mayor Tom Cane, is a superb show. It got so good as the season progressed that it felt like the parts of The Wire with Mayor Carcetti were coming alive again. Read EW’s review which perfectly describes how even with Grammar’s, “decades of pretentious buffoonery on Cheers and Frasier,” that somehow “it just feels natural,” and that he’s found where he needs to be. Spartacus, in it’s first season, was a breakout hit and earned millions of fans on social. Andy Whitfield, the show’s star horribly passed away in September from cancer, but this devastating news has not ended the show. A new season staring Liam McIntyre will premier on January 27th.

In a very unique interview with STARZ, SVP of Consumer Marketing Kelly Bumann share details and insights on how the Denver-based network leveraged Facebook (they premiered the pilot episode on Facebook), Twitter, GetGlue, message boards and dedicated fan-sites and communities to help share their original programming with new users and reward passionate fans. She also shares her perspective on social TV and second screen apps. If you’re looking for a new show to marathon over the holidays and follow, make sure to catch up on both these STARZ originals.

Lost Remote: What social media elements went into launching Boss? Spartacus?

Kelly Bumann: For Boss, we leveraged Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and GetGlue check-in service to interact, engage and communicate with our Boss fans. To introduce a new intense drama show like Boss, we provided updates, character introductions, videos, exclusive photography, live episode questions as well as an invitation to special events and to watch the first full episode on Facebook a week prior to the network premiere. To further engage with our Boss fans, we built a fully interactive destination “ScandalousDirt” that complemented the show with real-time political news, polls, current events and live tweets. It blurred the lines between reality and fiction. We also partnered with a social media agency to create buzz around the premiere of Boss and to promote early sampling of the first episode where bloggers and site editors could embed the first episode directly to their blog/site. To further engage and drive conversation, we leveraged social media advertising and integrated with Reddit.

For Spartacus, we have leveraged Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, a Starz-branded message board and check-in services to communicate and interact with the Spartacus Fans. We’ve had great success with our Spartacus Facebook which encompasses a global fan base of 2+ million fans. In addition to providing updates, insider information, photos/videos, polls and encouraging discussions, we’re also making one of the biggest social media marketing pushes to date: a unique application mix for Facebook that combines gaming, sharing, and mashups. We wanted to give our hungry Spartacus fans a way to have fun and engage with us. This multi-phase Facebook application “Take Up Arms” has a mix of different levels, which will phase over the course of the next several weeks. Fans will be rewarded with chances to win prizes, including DVD sets. By participating, fans can also enter for a chance to win a grand prize trip to New Zealand to visit the Spartacus set. Finally, we are leveraging engaging online and social media advertising to further extend awareness about the show.

LR: How is Starz using social to attract new subscribers?

KB: We’re leveraging our (STARZ network) branded Facebook and Twitter properties to build awareness of our network and share the quality of programming (movies and originals) we have to offer and then using our cash back rebate offer to engage new subscribers interest. We’re also testing some new initiatives around referral programs that will use our national offer more aggressively.

LR: Does Boss, Spartacus have presence on Twitter, Facebook?

KB: STARZ, Boss, and Spartacus are established on both Facebook and Twitter. Boss (Facebook and Twitter), Spartacus (Facebook and Twitter) along with STARZ (Facebook and Twitter).

LR: Have you ever thought about launching a co-viewing application?

KB: Yes, but given the premium nature of our entertainment and being so different from reality TV we are hesitant to do it on the TV screen. It would also need to be a tied to the specific content and target audience of the show. We are doing live tweets and Facebook posts and do see good engagement on those environments. We are also doing live interactive video chats where that makes sense – like for Spartacus.

LR: Did you work with any of the social TV startups (GetGlue, others?)

KB: Yes, we have partnered with both GetGlue and Miso in the past. For Boss and Spartacus, we are working exclusively with GetGlue. We know part of our audience is checking-in and driving conversations on GetGlue so we wanted to offer those fans exclusive show and character stickers that builds on the story as the season progresses. We also offered time-exclusive stickers to our Spartacus fans during Comic-Con this past summer.

LR: How closely does the social media team work with talent?

KB: We work closely with the Show Runners, Executive Producers, talent and crew. During Comic-Con 2010, we directly connected our Spartacus fans with Steven DeKnight (Exec. Producer), Lucy Lawless (Lucretia), John Hannah (Batiatus) and the late Andy Whitfield (Spartacus) with an exclusive, unique and exciting live stream web chat event.

For Spartacus: Vengeance we are planning a few nice surprises over the next few months that provides an opportunity for our fans to connect with talent and crew. Make sure you like the Spartacus Facebook page to get the news when it happens!

LR: What has social buzz about Boss told you about the show? How does this compare to ratings?

KB: Online buzz for Boss has been overwhelming positive, and even to a greater degree for episodes later in the season as people became more familiar with the characters and the plotlines. Those who are watching and talking about the show online are mostly raving about Boss. We also know there is a core audience that is extremely passionate and loyal to Boss and they’re excited to see where the story goes and excited to be “along for the ride.”

LR: What do you think the future of social TV is?

KB: This is an excellent question. Social TV is constantly evolving with networks and content providers. We’re continually evaluating the best strategy that makes sense to our shows and for our fans that doesn’t fragment our audience from enjoying the content and giving them a place to engage and interact with us and other fans. Whenever we can help drive a more premium experience with our entertainment we will be inclined to test it out. We also believe when we develop really engaging shows, consumers will want to share with their friends and family and dive into the story.

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