For many years, companies have been trying to make TV viewing a more interactive experience. You can blame technological limits, the lack of creativity, or even the raccoons raiding your trash bins at night, but the fact is that interactive TV has been a hilarious failure.
Previous attempts at engaging with your favorite show have been intrusive and impractical. They lacked value and were gimmick-centric. The past has dictated that interactive TV experiences need to seamlessly blend with the existing consumption model of the medium (i.e. melting into your couch with a bag of chips).Enter AMC Networks. Enter Breaking Bad Story Sync. Enter second-screen digital marketing.
No More Half-Measures
AMC recognized that people love talking about their interests and that the second screen revolution is changing how media is consumed. The company leveraged the two phenomena and created Breaking Bad Story Sync, a live and interactive second screen experience designed for the purpose of increasing and retaining viewership.
Story Sync strategically presented viewers with various polls and trivia during the airing of new episodes. It promoted constant speculation and rabid discussion about the show’s future through the use of social media. Furthermore, AMC was clever enough to pluck at the nostalgia strings for old episodes by constantly calling back to certain themes and ideas, thus helping generate positive sentiment with every episode.
Story Sync is simplistic, but that’s the point. It connected everyone watching the show without interrupting their experience and actively encouraged the spread of the Breaking Bad brand.
AMC’s the One who Knocks
AMC is a TV channel, and ad revenue is a core component of its business model. We can hypothesize that this was the driving factor behind the idea of Story Sync, but not at the sacrifice of the user experience.
It’s hard to get people to care for live entertainment in the digital age; it’s easy to pirate content, record it for later, or stream through services like Netflix. TV is at an unfamiliar crossroads thanks to the disruption created by the internet and mobile devices. Nobody knows which business models will prove to be the best in the future, but it’s becoming clear that current ones aren’t as effective as before.
The concept of Story Sync may never be the savior that TV will eventually need, but it demonstrates AMCs ability to respond to a changing environment. Story Sync is a great example of digital marketing and offers something of value to the customer. The live pseudo-conversation which viewers got from it was unattainable elsewhere, thus providing a reason to tune in together. The service generated social proof for each episode as it played out, thus effectively leveraging the audience’s group mentality. Opinions were being validated as they were being formed, and this undoubtedly contributed to the fact that Breaking Bad is the best user-rated show of all time.
It’s also worth noting that Story Sync was easier to use than message boards since it delivered the content directly to its users. You can argue that a forum can offer more fruitful and in-depth discussion than Story Sync, but the whole point of the latter was to fluidly integrate into the viewing experience. Look at it from AMC’s perspective: why make the user search for the discussions when you can deliver it to them in a more controlled environment?
Breaking Bad never reached true mainstream appeal during its initial airing, but it generated a loyal following and created a snowball effect. The show averaged 1.2 million views in the first season, but the series finale was actually seen by over 10 million. That’s a great number for any popular program, and there’s no doubt that Story Sync contributed to the show’s continuous rise in popularity. And greater popularity means greater ad revenue potential for AMC.
Despite being a clever digital marketing effort, Story Sync is still a gimmick. Whether it’s one that has lasting power is yet to be determined (AMC is doing the same thing for The Walking Dead), and it would be unrealistic to think of it as a permanent solution to the concept of interactive TV and changing business models.
However, this shouldn’t take away from the fact that Story Sync is a great digital marketing idea, even if it only works once. It’s important not to get carried away. Story Sync and services like it need to maintain a certain level of transparency in order to blossom. If viewers feel that their voices aren’t being heard (e.g. through poll options), they won’t want to engage with the service.
The Future (with jetpacks and stuff)
AMC’s BrBa Story Sync is an early example of what can be accomplished with the second screen. It was a real-world demonstration of marketing that not only served a real-world purpose, but actually contributed to the success of the thing it was trying to promote. Though it’s not currently clear how TV will evolve, it is clear that the second screen is here to stay. It provides exciting opportunities in the digital marketing space, but the challenge is to come up with quality uses.
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