As the new fall season is upon us, the networks are looking for the online sweet spot to create the buzz for the battle of audience share. As they turn to AOL for support, they will find Patricia Karpas at the helm of AOL Television, a veteran network exec armed with partnerships and resources to break new ground with every promotion. Her promotions don’t just sell a new TV series but also cross-promote with AOL Music to spotlight the bands and music in the hot shows for the fall. Check out what Patricia has in her bag of tricks to create the buzz for a television show.
Braswell: What is your role at AOL Television?
Karpas: I am responsible for developing programming that informs, entertains and engages the AOL member, as it relates to Television. We inform by providing comprehensive television listings and personalized recommendations through our new “What’s on for Me” personalization product. We also provide alerts and reminders so that when people want to watch certain shows, they can be sure not to miss their favorites.
We entertain by working with networks and producers to build entertainment programming environments that enhance the television experience for the online audience. We break that into three primary categories: promotional partnerships, companion programming and original programming.
The third most important thing we do is to find ways to engage AOL members around the television experience. We’re trying to build these environments with great broadband programming and great narrowband programming, but we also enrich the experience in a way that stimulates activity on the part of the member, so that a member will want to vote in a poll for something or want to rate a certain television show or talk with like-minded television fans about their favorite shows.
Braswell: What was your first online promotion?
Karpas: I was part of the start up team for NBC.com at NBC, and one of the very first marketing integration deals we did was with Toyota. We created an environment for Toyota inside the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” site that focused on Jay Leno’s love of cars. Achieving Toyota’s goal of being associated with Jay’s interest in cars worked perfectly for them.
Braswell: What was the first time you launched a big online promotion that was geared to promote viewership?
Karpas: When I was at NBC, we pioneered an online extension of an on-air program around the show “Homicide.” It was called Homicide: Second Shift and it created the online extension for a whole new set of characters that were on the second shift of Homicide. After the initial episodes online, the online producer began to work more closely with the on-air producer. Together they brought some of the on-air characters online and some of the online characters on-air. There were story lines and characters that crossed over and I think that was the most compelling on-air/online extension in the early days.
Braswell: That was around 1997?
Karpas: Yes, and Intel was a big partner/integrated advertiser, as a part of the experience because it was launching one of the Pentium products and this was a great way for the company to be associated with some of the hottest, coolest content on the Web.
Braswell: You work for a company that has the largest online subscriber audience on the planet. You sit in a unique position with the entertainment industry by having the ability to pull levers and execute innovative ideas to increase viewership of a television show. Where are you pushing the envelope to help TV shows build buzz to increase their audience?
Karpas: With ”The O.C.,” we have a marketing partnership that includes FOX and Warner Brothers Television. Warner Brothers Television is a partner of ours on an ongoing basis with many different shows. We created a 90-second pod to air within ”The O.C.” where each week there is a billboard that introduces an AOL Music Showcase followed by a 55-second preview of a never-before-seen video that is picked by both FOX and AOL Music, followed by a 30-second commercial for AOL. This has been a fantastic marketing program, created to focus specifically on our music and entertainment content so that it’s contextual to the entire concept.
At the end of the show, there is a billboard telling viewers to “Watch all of the songs and scenes from ’The O.C.’ on AOL.” There is on-air exposure for AOL, combined with the fact that the spot drives traffic online from on-air. We don’t launch the breaking video until after the show at 10:00 pm on Tuesday nights, so we get a traffic bump right after the show ends. Then, if you liked a song from a particular scene, we’ve taken video grabs from the major scenes of the show that have music associated with them, and allow you to listen to those songs.
There are two separate music components: one is the breaking videos that have nothing to do specifically with music that’s on the show, and the second is the music featured during the show driven by McG and Josh Schwartz, the executive producer and producer of the show who are very music oriented. Each week, “The O.C.” features a number of original songs, so our concept was – when people are watching a show and they hear great songs, and want to know the name of the songs, they can now go directly to AOL, hear the songs and, if they want to own the songs, they can purchase the CDs or, in some cases, purchase the download of those songs through MusicNet@AOL.
For AOL it helps us to further express the enormous content experience around music and entertainment. For Fox, it’s helping to launch, brand and promote its show, so it works for everyone on a number of different levels.
Braswell: For “Smallville,” you’ve actually created the perfect definition of companion programming. Can you tell us about that?
Karpas: The Chloe Chronicles we developed for “Smallville” are a great example of companion programming because it is content created specifically to extend the on-air experience via online. The Chloe Chronicles are two-and-a-half minute vignettes produced by the show’s producers, written by the writers of the show, and featuring Chloe Sullivan (played by Alison Mack), one of the main characters on the show.
Braswell: But she’s not the young Superman who is the main character in “Smallville.”
Karpas: She’s not the lead and she’s not Superman’s girlfriend, which is great because she’s much more eager to work with us on these types of promotional opportunities, and the angle that we took was a very intuitive angle. She plays the school reporter investigating the whole mystery of Superman in the show, so it made sense to have her be investigating the mysteries online as well.
Braswell: Some television executives fear the Internet competes with television. You created a unique opportunity for the third season of “Smallville” to expand a character to broaden the audience. While viewers are waiting until the next week for a new episode they can go online and have a deeper affinity with a character by giving them more screen time.
Karpas: I could not have said it better. Our whole idea is to enhance on-air programming franchises in ways that make sense online and that help to build the overall loyalty, affinity and viewer connection to the television show itself. We’ve developed great marketing partnerships and relationships with all the networks. When the networks are launching a new show they call us now, because they understand that our goal is to create extended experiences where we can transport TV viewers and AOL members deeper into their favorite shows and deeper into the stories and characters. They feel that it supports their objectives.
Braswell: You’re designing new yardsticks for network television to quantify affinity. What new tools for quantification are you providing the network executive?
Karpas: We do ongoing tracking of satisfaction of the online experience, so we can provide them with information on this. We can provide them with the number of people who have engaged with message boards and we can provide them with the number of people who have purchased a CD or the DVD, as well as track any other offline behavior. And although this is the hardest thing to do, we’ve had some examples where we’ve been able to show a blip in ratings, but that’s a much harder thing to move and to be able to assign an actual accountability to one partner or one source.
Braswell: Via the message boards you can also analyze how many times people on the message board are mentioning certain characters.
Karpas: Absolutely. From the first “O.C.” episode, for example, we had a lot of discussion around the shows’ main characters, but we also had a lot of people talking about the Ben Harper video and then the Thicke video. We can tell what’s stimulating the board activity. We can also look at where something moves, in terms of Search, like what are the most searched television shows, and how that number changes as we monitor ongoing activity.
Braswell: What are some of the strongest elements that can quantify the networks’ investment in an online promotion?
Karpas: First, it’s a collaborative marketing promotion. When we commit to something like ”The O.C.,” we’re also giving a certain amount of promotion within AOL -- our Entertainment area, the Welcome Screen, inside of our Music area, for example. We also work with partners on ways to target specific audiences based on our ability to segment promotions. The second thing is that by allowing people to sample the music from the show and get a sense of what the show is about, we can see that they’re more likely to want to watch the show. I think the third would be watching how people engage around the message boards. We can give our network partners insight into how people are engaging around the show and what they’re talking about.
Braswell: I would imagine for the writers that can be helpful too.
Karpas: I think that’s also very important. We have producers and writers and even casting agents checking out message boards all the time because they want to know what people are saying about these characters. As soon as “The Bachelor” launches with Bob, we’re going to get a ton of people talking about the new ”Bachelor” and there may be certain things about him that the producers change based on – and this is not to say that they will – but there may be certain things that are changed in any one of these shows based on the great flood of feedback that we’re able to provide to them.
Braswell: Let’s talk about timing. How early do you start promoting a new season?
Karpas: With “Smallville,” it wasn’t so much about the new season, since we launched Chloe’s Chronicles during May sweeps. For ”The O.C.,” we began promotion three or four days before the launch of the show. We think television behavior is based on people making their decisions on a more immediate basis so the bulk of the promotion that we do is “day of” and also “day after” because we want people to know that they can find what they’ve missed (the watercooler buzz) as well.
Braswell: Would you put a promo online before the network puts it on the network?
Karpas: No. The networks sometimes promote their shows three to four weeks in advance to build momentum for a show. We don’t often do that because AOL is a real-time medium.
Braswell: The Internet is proving to be one of the best advertising mediums to find the “key multiplier.” What’s your strategy for tapping into the millions of AOL key multipliers?
Karpas: Part of it is making sure that we’re very well integrated with all of our community groups because the Television community on AOL is huge. There are message boards for pretty much every show. We can actually engage our community with questions, opinions etc. to start creating some buzz around it and we can ask some of our community leaders to watch a show and tell us what they think. This creates a great multiplier effect because it gets many individuals actively involved in a show.
The other way you get a multipler is by being able to share media through IM or email -- the ability to share music or video so that members can just put their favorite song from “The O.C,” for example, into an IM and/or clip it into an email and easily forward it.
Braswell: Broadband created a whole new ballgame for TV promotion because you’re no longer locked into a network structure of 15-, 30-, 60-, or 90-second promo spots. The ability to replay an online promo as many times as you want and then tell a friend via email about the promo has the potential to revolutionize television promotion as we know it. Especially since the TV producer has access to how many times people watched a promo versus a sample … potentially within 24 hours. On AOL I watched a 4:12 minute promo for the new NBC comedy “Happy Family” and as soon as I watched it, I asked my wife to watch it and played it a second time. The next morning my wife goes, “That’s was a really funny TV program.” There’s no other medium that can do that. Nowhere on network television can I watch a four-minute promo, and especially watch it over and over and tell other people about it. I thought that was extraordinary because I’ve seen some other online properties that are still stuck in the 30-second, 60-second promos.
Karpas: We’re really excited about this because it gives you the ability to tell more of a story. For example, for some shows like “The West Wing,” “Six Feet Under,” “Alias,” or ”CSI” -- great shows that we’ve all heard of, but not everyone has watched -- we’ve created four- to six-minute “Insider’s Guides” designed to “catch you up” if you’re new to the show or the stories. It works for the networks and it’s a great opportunity for AOL and AOL for Broadband.
Braswell: With the “Insider Guides,” will there be a slot for the 30-second sponsor spot? How do sponsors looking beyond the traditional TV spot get involved with this type of online programming?
Karpas: We have a group at AOL working on maximizing advertising opportunities in a broadband environment and it will include use of 30-second spots in some of these videos as well as other forms of rich media.
Braswell: Online publishers want the networks to spend their ad budgets to reach the online “at work” audience to tell folks to “tune in tonight” yet some networks have been reluctant. Others have been a little bit more daring, but the idea of buying online advertising to tell folks to “tune in tonight” is still in its infancy. Now AOL is pushing the envelope with your TiVo partnership so folks from their computers at work can tell their TiVo to tape a show.
Karpas: We launched the TiVo applications a couple of months ago and if you go through our TV listings, the ability to record to your TiVo is on every single episode page. Now that you can TiVo any show via your AOL TV listings, we’re trying to make it available throughout our Television area. When we launch our Fall TV feature, we’ve included TiVo. We’re very happy in our partnership with TiVo and we get great feedback from members just like you on that they really like being able to record to their DVR from the PC. We look at it as another way to extend the relationship with a show itself, so we’re giving you the opportunity to be reminded of when the show’s on or to record it and watch it later.
Braswell: Ok…two final questions: What about your business keeps you up at night?
Karpas: (LAUGHS) Let’s see. It’s really these questions I’m always asking myself: how do we keep innovating and how do we keep creating new ways to build this into the most amazing medium that it can be? Really, it’s as broad as that, how do we not settle on what we’ve already done and how do we create amazing content experiences so that people will want to keep coming back over and over.
Braswell: What’s the favorite part of your job?
Karpas: Breaking new ground! It’s really about creating things first and that’s really exciting for me.