Campaign of Distinction: ‘Battlestar Galactica’

Jun 19, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Elizabeth Jensen

Special to TelevisionWeek

In many ways, launching the Friday night “Battlestar Galactica” was “kind of easy,” said Adam Stotsky, Sci Fi’s senior VP of marketing and creative. “The heat and energy and emotion and passion for this project in these halls has been staggering from day one,” he said.

The “Battlestar Galactica” series was a spinoff of a popular miniseries, so a sizable portion of the audience already knew of it. Scripts and rough cuts kept disappearing, so it was a sure bet that the new show was well-executed. (Indeed, it went on to win a Peabody Award.)

But that doesn’t mean the January 2005 launch wasn’t a challenge as well. Internal expectations for the show were so high that the channel decided to move beyond genre and go for a broad 18- to 49-year-old audience that would be attracted to a good drama, not the narrower audience for a good science fiction drama.

“At its core, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is a drama, a politically charged social commentary drama, more than it is a space opera,” Mr. Stotsky said. “Emotionally gripping, nail-biting, with rich, detailed characters.” The show’s analogues were “The West Wing” and “The Shield,” he said, rather than “Stargate SG-1” or “Star Trek.” That meant redefining viewers’ expectations.

The channel took a three-pronged approach. First, Mr. Stotsky said, the marketers decided they needed to get an advance preview of the show into as many hands as possible. Some 2 million DVD samplers were distributed everywhere from movie theaters to comic book conventions. A free video-on-demand preview was set up with cable system partners. And after the show launched, post-episode conversations on AOL with the creators and cast, as well as longer podcasts and blogs, gave new viewers more reason to become hooked.

Another part of the campaign was tapping into the synergy-especially the more broadly targeted networks-of NBC Universal. NBC reran the original Sci Fi Channel miniseries a week before the cable series launched; research later determined that one-quarter of the 25- to 54-year-old viewers of the Sci Fi series premiere had watched the miniseries on NBC.

There was a tie-in with Spanish-language Telemundo and its youth-targeted cable channel mun2 using actor Edward James Olmos. Universal Home Video offered DVD exclusives. Regal Cinemas, with which the company has a strategic partnership, ran a four-minute exclusive clip before some film screenings.

Finally, there was the creative execution itself. Nowhere in the advertising is there a spaceship. “No phasers, no robotics, no metallic Cylons, no techno-battle, no outer space shots,” Mr. Stotsky said, just close-ups of the characters’ faces, evoking the drama, emotion and complex characters in the series. “For a brand like Sci Fi, it’s not what the consumer expects,” he said.

Roger Guillen, 34, oversaw the creative elements of the campaign. Because “Battlestar Galactica” is so “three-dimensional and has so many plot points, there is a lot of dramatic material to feed off and work with,” he said. As an example, he said, for an episode that featured two battleships at war and a pending Cylon attack, the promotion would focus on “the stakes involved.” The goal, he added, was to “show off the characters and the interpersonal relationships.”

Adam Stotsky

Title: Senior VP of marketing and creative, Sci Fi

How long in current position: Two years

Year of birth: 1968

Place of birth: York, Penn.

Who knew? “I’ve worked for the Sci Fi Channel for five years and I don’t own a phaser,” he said.