While both AMC’s The Walking Dead and Starz’s Ash vs. Evil Dead feature plenty of gore, they couldn’t be more different—and their approaches to promoting their respective February premieres reflect that.
AMC leveraged its longstanding relationship with Next Games, makers of The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land, to create a digital campaign called “Playtime with Jesus” that simultaneously draws attention to both the show and the mobile game. The goal is to engage audiences with the Walking Dead brand as more of a whole instead of its individual components. Meanwhile, Lionsgate, which purchased Starz in 2016, debuted an esports jersey sponsorship where Overwatch League team LA Valiant wore Ash vs. Evil Dead logos during competitions.
Clayton Neuman, VP of games and entertainment applications at AMC, told AListDaily the company shifted to a “Live + 365” approach to programming several years ago. That means that the company isn’t just engaging fans while the zombie-themed show is airing, but throughout the year using amusement park attractions, merchandise, video games and more. Therefore, No Man’s Land, which offers continuous interaction, provides a valuable opportunity to keep fans hooked.
This engagement includes “Playtime with Jesus,” a digital video series hosted on multiple platforms and shown during the mid-season premiere’s commercials. Neuman said AMC views the digital series as more than just an ad campaign, but as engaging content in and of itself, and it seems to have been a successful activation.
Data provided by social media analytics firm NetBase shows the video series, created in partnership with Next Games, netted millions of views across multiple platforms with hundreds of thousands of views on any given video. But NetBase product marketing manager Elvis Lieban also noted the Demolition Ranch YouTube channel’s Walking Dead sponsored video from December still holds the record for most views.
The videos, which have the actors demonstrating different aspects of No Man’s Land, feature the game more prominently than the show, but Neuman explains that players and viewers aren’t mutually exclusive audiences.
“We’re always trying to attract more players to the game, but that’s in service of giving our fans engaging content that they can enjoy throughout the year,” he said. “We feel these videos are so entertaining in their own right that our fans will not only seek out the full series to watch, they’ll be eager to check out the game afterwards. When they do, we’re confident they’ll find a great new way to explore the world of The Walking Dead.”
But franchise engagement doesn’t always mean higher ratings. Nielsen Live+Same Day data revealed that the season 8 mid-season premiere drew the lowest ratings in the show’s history. Netbase’s findings on social media tell a similar story, showing that the premiere generated 581,852 mentions. Comparatively, the season 8 premiere in October had 689,957 mentions. Still, The Walking Dead remains AMC’s top-rated show even with the apparent decline in viewership, and there were almost twice as many positive mentions than negative ones for the mid-season premiere.
AMC will continue to work closely with Next Games to ensure that No Man’s Land authentically represents the show by sharing marketing materials, scripts and photos with the developer. At the start of season 7, the game introduced special missions based on each night’s episode, which both engaged fans and incentivized players to tune in to live broadcasts.
“It’s important that the official game and the TV show go hand-in-hand,” said Saara Bergström, CMO at Next Games. “At the end of the day, the game is a great way for the show fans to engage with the franchise on a daily basis, and our job is to make sure we deliver on the promise of authenticity and stay true to the show.”
Lionsgate became an investor in the Immortals esports franchise last year and created LA Valiant from it to compete in the Overwatch League. The jersey sponsorship marks one of the first tests of how well the Overwatch League, which officially launched in January, generates awareness for its television shows. Ash vs. Evil Dead will be LA Valiant’s exclusive jersey sponsor through at least Stage Two of the inaugural season, and part of the deal includes giving fans access to Evil Dead experiences, such as exclusive showings at Lionsgate’s screening room in Santa Monica, followed by an Overwatch League watch party.
Esports fans are also given opportunities to interact with the show’s creators and meet members of the cast. Actors Ray Santiago (who plays Pablo Bolivar), Dana DeLorenzo (Kelly Maxwell) and Arielle Carver-O’Neill (Brandy Barr) attended a recent match and took pictures with the team and fans.
— Dana DeLorenzo (@ImDanaDeLorenzo) March 3, 2018
Daniel Engelhardt, vice president of Lionsgate Interactive Ventures and Games, told AListDaily the sponsorship wasn’t just about sticking a name or brand on a jersey. In addition to the Overwatch League’s high viewership, which pulled in over 10 million viewers in its opening week, the esports league is an important channel for the show because of its infrastructure, which is modeled after traditional sports franchises.
“One of the big things that attracted us to the [LA Valiant] franchise was their senior leadership’s team focus on high-quality storytelling and engagement with their community,” Engelhardt said. “They saw the Ash vs. Evil Dead partnership as a big win for both sides from that perspective. We get the chance to introduce this Starz franchise to their highly engaged community and Valiant gets the chance to offer unique experiences to their fans.”
According to Engelhardt, esports is the ideal way to engage with the show’s audience because a large percentage of viewers are “cord nevers,” meaning that they watch content online without having watched linear broadcast television. Starz has put increased emphasis on watching through its app and digital content partners in recent months, and Lionsgate felt that Evil Dead‘s combination gore and slapstick humor would resonate well with the audience.
“The series appeals to the same type of audience that engages with esports—the humor, the action, and of course, Bruce Campbell,” Engelhardt said, referring to the show’s main star. “Multiple generations of gamers are fans of Bruce, so we felt that in doing this sponsorship, we would be bringing Valiant fans content that they could get excited about and be proud to see on their team’s jersey.”
Although Engelhardt stated the sponsorship was positively received by fans, that enthusiasm didn’t necessarily translate into ratings. Nielsen data indicates that viewership is declining, which is a continuing trend from season 2. However, as more viewers switch to watching online and may prefer binge watching the season at its conclusion, judging the show’s success and whether the sponsorship has a measurable effect can be tricky. Other potential factors include how season 3 premiered in February instead of the show’s usual October time frame, and how the first two seasons were made available on Netflix in December, which might signal some viewers to wait instead of subscribing to Starz.
NetBase data shows the season 3 premiere brought 38,546 mentions across social channels, which is lower than the season 2 premiere’s 41,794 mentions. Lieban stated the partnership with Valiant brought “a bit over 1 percent of the total volume of conversation around the brand,” but that isn’t a clear indicator of whether the sponsorship is successful or not.
In any case, Lionsgate intends to focus on esports as an important area for marketing, community building and content creation. The media company is currently developing games with an eye on esports, and Engelhardt said the enthusiasm esports generates is critical to the brand’s success.
“We see this as a chance to build a long-term relationship with [Valiant], not just around Ash vs. Evil Dead, but other shows on Starz, [including] Power, Counterpart and more,” Engelhardt said. “We think this is a platform they’ll be excited to discover if they haven’t already, and through Valiant, we can continue to give them special experiences that take them behind the curtain.”