In the current climate, engaging with viewers can be a tricky task.
During the second episode of the Variety Streaming Room weekly series “Rebooting the Entertainment Industry,” marketing executives from HBO Max, Facebook, Fox Entertainment and PwC talked to Variety senior TV writer Elaine Low about how their companies have been reaching out to audiences during this period. The panelists included Katie Soo, senior VP and head of growth marketing at HBO Max, Jennifer Howard, group director of entertainment, technology and connectivity at Facebook, Megan Wahtera, senior VP of content marketing and media at Fox Entertainment, and Lori Driscoll, marketing and sales transformation principal at PwC.
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“The creativity and resilience is coming through in spades,” said PwC’s Driscoll. “The tone of the campaigns have shifted to be more value-based and purpose-driven. We look to campaigns and programming, for that matter, for emotional connection.”
Soo echoed the sentiment, adding that a sense of authenticity has been a driving force behind the campaign for streaming service HBO Max, which launches May 27.
“The only way to be able to handle this type of environment is to remain agile, to be authentic, to really be able to pivot your campaigns in real time,” Soo said. “We were really fortunate the whole thesis of the campaign was already very warm and nostalgic. We didn’t have to change a ton. What we did was pull forward some ideas that we had around watch parties, livestreaming, getting content in front of our fans and being able to bring that content into the homes of people who may be seeking that comfort.”
The coroanvirus pandemic has caused a large shift in consumer behavior, the execs noted, with audiences gravitating toward livestreams and stripped-back, personal content. Howard said that in the month of March alone, Facebook saw a 50% increase of people broadcasting themselves live and Facebook Watch usage rose by double digits. Howard attributed this increase to new, relatable content on the platform, such as “The Biebers on Watch” and coronavirus-specific episodes of “Red Table Talk.”
“I think a big piece of the driving force of what we see in Watch is a lot of the new content that’s come on, some of it directly responding to the pandemic,” Howard said. “The authentic nature of what’s being produced is really driving the usage of what we’re seeing.”
Over at Fox, the success of “The iHeart Living Room Concert for America” is allowing for latitude in the kind of content that makes it to air, such as table reads for charity and cooking demos with “Master Chef” stars, said Wahtera.
“I appreciate the risk-taking — I think there’s a little bit of a sense that you can try something different right now,” she said. “Being able to take a chance on something that may not have worked under different constructs has been something that I hope sticks around.”
One thing executives hope will stick around once the coronavirus pandemic is over: audiences.
“I think the free trials have become an important part of the business model right now to help people get through this time of need,” Driscoll said. “We all are going to have to figure out how to drive loyalty long term coming out of it.”
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