Can offline events grow online audiences?

From cruises to theme parks to stage shows, Discovery, VStar and MGM are engaging audiences IRL to help drive digital discovery.
November 1, 2019

It’s the golden age of content! But with so many platforms and shows to watch, no one can find anything new. All week we’re breaking down different discoverability problems and how to beat them. If you haven’t seen Monday’s introduction to discoverability and why it’s an issue facing creators today, then go back and check it out here, then follow that up with what platforms are doing to tackle discoverability and how to game the YouTube algorithm. and how to take social media by storm. You can also keep up with the whole series here.

Set up shop

Live and location-based brand extensions have been stealing the spotlight on the kids stage. But Robert Marick, MGM’s EVP of global consumer products and experiences, says the type of experience a company should execute varies greatly depending on its goals.

He divides location-based entertainment into four types, including destinations like indoor centers and theme parks; attractions like VR experiences, 4D experiences and exhibitions; live events like touring arena shows, mall shows and screenings with live musical accompaniment; and dining, retail and hospitality. Pop-up experiences are ideal for drumming up awareness for a new film or television show, Marick says, because they are cost-efficient and quick to execute. Additionally, hosting these types of events in public spaces like malls provides the opportunity to expose the brand to new viewers.

“Touring exhibitions and pop-ups are low-hanging fruit,” he says. “You have to identify a partner and negotiate a deal, and that can take anywhere from three months to a year. But once you have your agreement in place, I’d say you could do a pop-up in around nine months.”

Permanent installations like a theme park, however, are better suited to a long-term franchise with a fan base because those existing fans will go out of their way to participate.

“More complex efforts like permanent attractions require more capital and can take years to develop, from designing to engineering to actually building and operating. But they’re also the efforts that can generate more awareness because they are permanent and can serve more people.”

Marick says the biggest opportunity to drive viewers to content through offline experiences—especially through larger, permanent efforts—is in Asia. By 2020, he believes China will become the top theme park market in the world.

No matter how hungry a region is for location-based entertainment, however, Marick says it’s crucial that the experience is compatible with the content that inspired it. MGM’s upcoming World’s Toughest Challenge: Eco Challenge Fiji—a reboot of the series Eco-Challenge—is an unscripted multi-sport competition show expected to bow on Amazon Prime Video in 2020. The show will lend itself well to adventure parks, he says, but is less of an obvious fit for a retail experience.

“Any meaningful experience needs to be infused with content,” he says. “The key elements of the brand—what makes it unique—need to be part of the experience. Viewers will then feel an even stronger affinity for the brand, and that drives them back to the various platforms. You want to learn more, or re-live the experience, and that drives you back to the content.”

Hit the road 

Discoverability VStar Paw Patrol

VStar Entertainment Group’s multi-property stage shows can introduce fans of one brand to other IPs.

As popular as location-based brand extensions are, live shows in particular have been at center stage for several years. From ZAG’s Miraculous to My Little Pony to American Girl, it seems brands around the world are looking to break a leg. Eric Grilly, CEO of Cirque du Soleil-owned VStar Entertainment Group, says live shows are high risk but high reward because they appeal to all audiences, including people of wildly different age demographics, as well as both fans and families new to a property.

Earlier this year, VStar inked an exclusive and expanded five-year live theatrical partnership with Nickelodeon that will see the companies partner on multiple touring productions. Nick Jr. Live! Move to the Music launched in September, and the musical stage show (which features characters from series like Bubble Guppies, PAW Patrol, Shimmer and Shine, Top Wing and Dora the Explorer) was designed specifically to bring in as many different audience members as possible, Grilly says.

“It’s smart because it’s a compilation of multiple properties,” he says. “A family may come to the show because of one particular property they love, but during the show they’ll also be exposed to a number of different IPs. It’s building the brand overall, and creating an opportunity to expose kids to brands they may not necessarily already be fans of.”

VStar builds on that exposure by running promotional reels before live shows, during intermissions and in the venue’s lobby.

This material has the potential to drive audiences back to the original property, to ancillary content like an app, or to another IP from the same partner. Using live shows to drive viewers to other content is the best move, Grilly says, because audience members for this type of location-based experience are more likely to be die-hard fans. Something with a lower barrier to entry—like a pop-up shop in a mall—needs to introduce families to the content before it can point them to something else from the same company. Because live shows are the type of event that often attracts super-fans, Grilly says, it makes sense to take advantage of that loyalty to point viewers to something new that’s similar.

“For something like PAW Patrol Live! The Great Pirate Adventure, our show serves as an extension of the current relationship fans have with those characters. With a live show, you have kids showing up wearing the costume of their favorite character.”

Take to the seas 

Discoverability Discovery Princess Cruises

A recent partnership between Discovery and Princess Cruises was meant to appeal to fans of cruises, treehouses and construction in general.

The team at Discovery knows that everything from a pop-up shop to a cruise ship can drive viewers to a property, but the company is charting a slightly different course when it comes to increasing discoverability. Rather than creating offline experiences based on specific IPs, Discovery focuses on larger themes like space or sharks, and then works to attract consumers with an interest in those topics.

“If I had to give some guidance, I’d say we’re leaning toward new viewers and bringing younger viewers into our ecosystem,” says Christine Wacker, VP of location-based entertainment for Discovery. “Someone who doesn’t watch our content on a regular basis or have a favorite Discovery show would be our target audience.”

Discovery’s Constellation Theater, for example, isn’t based on a single IP and uses storytelling and projections to delve into the mysteries of the universe. During that experience, viewers are directed to different Discovery IPs depending on which shows are available in that specific region. Another particularly successful effort has been Discovery’s partnership with Princess Cruises.

“We worked with Treehouse Masters to build a treehouse at the Princess lodge in Alaska,” Wacker says. “Princess talked about it a lot through social media and the press, and it became our highest-rated episode for the show. And after we started airing that episode, we found people started booking cruises specifically so they could go see that treehouse.”

People interested in cruises, treehouses or construction in general could be directed to the show, she says, while many existing fans of the series were inspired to take a cruise to see the structure in person. In fact, Wacker says data from Princess shows that its patrons are one-and-a-half times more likely to take a cruise if they can have a Discovery experience while on board. These offline efforts are crucial when it comes to discovering new viewers and consumers, she says.

“We’re in a moment where content is being distributed through so many different platforms, and there is so much content out there that it’s really difficult to find your audience and court them. Our mission is to evoke curiosity, and we want viewers to be so curious that they can’t find the answer in just one place. We want them to be driven to all kinds of content to get those answers.”

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