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Networks Taking Characters Cross-Platform

In what has become an annual rite, executives involved with dozens of TV series will join the fans descending on San Diego later this week for the Comic-Con convention. And while some at the networks debate the continuing ability of TV shows to break through the confab clutter, none are questioning the value of allowing patrons to feel a greater attachment to a show by attending panels, cast signings or interacting with the brands.

“Comic-Con is a community, and we are part of that community,” says Lisa Gregorian, chief marketing officer, Warner Bros. Television Group. “We’re always looking to make sure that the experience is authentic and is something that will resonate with the fans.”

And more and more, the desire to connect with viewers in new ways is moving beyond large-scale events and into the development room. The reasons range from increasing ratings and engagement in the short term to extending the lifespan of a TV property in the long run.

And just as sci-fi and fantasy series lend themselves better to a presence at Comic- Con, they also offer ideal opportunities for cross-platform content. For Game of Thrones, HBO created an enhanced viewing experience on HBO Go that included a feed of maps, character bios, family trees and other content shown simultaneously and timed to each episode.

Unlike a two-screen experience, in which users can find extras online at their leisure, the HBO Go content appeared within the viewing experience through a feed on the right side of the screen and required early collaboration with the show’s creators. “As the scripts came in, we started isolating points within a script that we thought might be interesting to a fan base,” says Alison Moore, senior VP, digital platforms at HBO.

At Syfy, a network with a naturally techsavvy audience, the cross-platform potential has become criteria for greenlighting a series. Ancillary business areas that appeal to the network’s core sci-fi audience, like video games and movies, have worked their way into Syfy’s development strategy; instead of retrofitting properties for spinoff games, the net is creating them that way from the ground up.

Three years ago, Syfy formed a joint venture with video game publisher Trion to codevelop, coproduce and colaunch a weekly scripted TV series and subscription MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) called Defiance. Two development teams—a television team and a video game team—have been working together on the first-of-itskind property, which Syfy hopes to launch sometime in 2012.

“What you need is the creative team that was responsible for the TV series to be committed and to have been thinking about, as they’re developing their property, how it could live on these other platforms,” says Dave Howe, Syfy president.

The premiere of Alphas on July 11 netted 2.5 million viewers, making it Syfy’s most-watched series debut since 2009 and a likely candidate for a multi-platform play, should that success continue. While a gaming property takes time to develop—by which time a TV series might have wound down—with integrated creative development teams, that might not matter.

“If we create big, noisy, powerful IP characters and stories,” Howe says, “they really are capable of delivering a business model that can last 10, 20, 30 years.”

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