In Depth

Making New Media a Major Part of The Plan

Fox’s Melnick Uses Varied News Corp. Assets

One of Steven Melnick’s most revolutionary marketing efforts as senior VP of marketing for 20 Century Fox Television was the industry’s first franchise-based mobisode series, based on the Emmy-winning drama “24.” For his innovative thinking on that project and others, he will be a recipient of the inaugural Marketing Maverick Awards, given jointly by TelevisionWeek and Promax/BDA.

“As head of marketing for one of the world’s leading content producers, my focus has been on using non-broadcast platforms—mobile, online, DVD, etc.—to build our assets and reach new and generally younger viewers, often by creating original content for these platforms,” he said.

“‘24: Conspiracy’ created headlines around the world, as it represented the first time that a TV (or film) franchise was spun off into an original made-for-mobile series, and was distributed worldwide via Fox Mobile Entertainment just as the appetite for 3G mobile video was growing,” said Mr. Melnick.

The series was nominated for an Emmy and led to the creation of similar projects for “Prison Break” and “Bones.” For the “Bones” webisodes/ mobisodes, Fox enlisted “Bones” stars David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel to create new content in which their characters comically endured couples therapy.

In DVD releases, Mr. Melnick designed a campaign to give “24” fans more than just the previous season on disc. “We were the first to develop original advertiser-supported bonus content, which marked the first time that advertisers bought time, so to speak, on a TV-on-DVD release,” said Mr. Melnick. An original prequel, bridging the gap between season one and season two of “24,” was sponsored by and featured Toyota vehicles.

Since Fox’s parent company, News Corp., acquired MySpace, Mr. Melnick has employed the site’s social networking aspects to promote 20th Century Fox series in a new and innovative way. “On behalf of our CBS series ‘How I Met Your Mother,’ we developed the Robin Sparkles viral video marketing campaign, which merged the TV world and the online world to create a mythology around a fake ’90s teen pop star and her cheesy one-hit-wonder music video ‘Let’s Go to the Mall,’” said Mr. Melnick.

On the show, Robin Scherbatsky’s friends discover that when the TV reporter was a teenager in Canada, she sang as Robin Sparkles. Barney finds the music video online.

“The campaign was designed to both recruit new viewers and engage our youthful fan base and give them the tools they needed in community and content to participate as active evangelists for the show,” said Mr. Melnick. “The initial level of engagement began prior to the episode’s broadcast with the seeding on MySpace of a fake Robin Sparkles fan page and the audio track to her ‘hit single,’ with no mention whatsoever of ‘How I Met Your Mother.’”

Thousands of MySpace users soon joined the Robin Sparkles community. “That gave us a good indication that the character and backstory the writers had created was resonating. It was only with the ensuing broadcast of the episode that the connection between Robin Sparkles and the show was made, the viral video was posted and the file-sharing among fans began,” said Mr. Melnick.

The video took off across the Web. Within days, there were several hundred thousand streams across larger video sites, as well as hundreds of individual fan sites and blogs posting the video and encouraging their friends to watch it—and the show.

The following week, “How I Met Your Mother” saw a ratings spike of 1 million-plus, largely in the 18-34 demographic. “It proved to be the gift that just kept on giving, as months later fans were filming their own Robin Sparkles videos and spreading them across the Web,” he said.

The promotion was featured in TVWeek and the New York Times, and it got several Promax awards in 2007, including the Promax/BDA/Zap2It Gold Interactive Breakthrough Award and the Silver Interactive Applications Promotions Award.

Follow-up “Sandcastles in the Sand” recently launched on MySpace and the CBS Interactive Network as part of a big April episode.