On occasion, TV shows and movies will incorporate web URLs into their program or film with varying degrees of prominence. With the overwhelming majority of television viewers watching with a second device (smartphone, tablet, laptop) either in hand or within arm’s reach, marketing and transmedia teams at networks and production studios need to start placing a greater importance on what to do with those URLs.
Even before the days of the web, it was (and still is) common for shows to mention telephone numbers. We’ve all seen and heard these so it’s easy to pick up on the “555″ prefix when they are mentioned. I still remember the first time I noticed a phone number in a film back when I was a kid and immediately ran over to dial it: 555-2386. If you really know your movie trivia, you might recognize the number. If not, you can check out the video clip here. Unlike the block of 555 numbers set aside for the entertainment industry, there is no block of web domains for fictional use unless you simply make up an invalid extension.
Last night, I noticed in two different TV shows that URLs were placed in the programming with relatively the same amount of screen time: Comedy Bang! Bang! on IFC and Perception on TNT. There are a lot of potential examples out there, but I’ll use these two since they are the most recent that I’ve seen.
One of the recurring bits during “Comedy Bang! Bang!” S2E3 involved Reggie using a Bahama Mama blender – fake product placement complete with a mid-commercial break CBB infomercial where they briefly showed the BahamaMama.Info URL. When viewers visit that link, it redirects to a simple landing page on the IFC site with a fake Bahama Mama recipe. More certainly could have been done on this page like a full blender product site with the commercial or perhaps a CBB contest to reward viewers who visited, but they did provide a relevant image and it got users to visit the IFC website. I will point out that the persistent lower right corner hashtag that is normally #CBBTV did change to #BahamaMama during bits featuring the blender. Props to IFC for switching things up to keep the hashtag conversation going around segments within the show.
This week’s episode of “Perception” (S2E5) featured a case that involved a multi-player virtual world environment called Caleidoscope. This isn’t an actual product either, but they did show the URL of the game to be Caleidoscope.Co. This URL has no destination despite the fact that it was purchased and registered in March of this year by ABC.com – ABC Studios produces the show. Even if it redirected to the Perception home page, it would be a better experience for fans of the show who took the time to check it out. Plus, the network could gauge how many fans were paying attention enough to the show to want to check out bonus or “hidden” content, which could be used to justify spend or find promotional partners for future opportunities.
How far networks are willing to take the transmedia experience for their shows that mention URLs during the program will depend heavily on several factors including budget and audience demographics. At minimum, networks need to purchase the domains to prevent inappropriate usage of them by others. It has been my experience, more often than not the URLs used in programs rarely lead to anything other than a dead link. When they do, most don’t fully utilize the opportunity to their advantage. Even if the transmedia marketing budget is too small to create an interactive campaign around the URL mentioned briefly during an episode, there should at least be an available destination that users will find when they visit. If that experience is unique to the context of the episode and can find a way to reward that fan for taking the extra effort to visit, then that would be ideal.
Creating some form of an experience on URLs mentioned in TV & film has grown beyond selective use of “Easter egg” executions only. With the availability of technology in the hands of viewers while they watch programming and the prevalence of multi-screen user behavior, it is more important than ever that networks and shows use those during program URLs to their advantage.
EDIT (9/17): Wanted to add this one because I’ve seen it shared and talked about several times over the last few days. Breaking Bad created a publicly available website which was featured in S2E12. The site is operational and still receives social buzz chatter 3 years later. SaveWalterWhite.com
Images: IFC & TNT