Being followed by the Fades: chasing the youth audience

Curator's Note

How do you promote your television program to the demographic that spends as much time texting as watching video content and more time on the computer than watching television on a traditional set? This is the challenge for BBC3, a digital television channel in the UK with a specific remit to target 16-34-year-olds with high quality and innovative public service content. BBC3 has turned to particularly novel forms of promotion and branding in order to chase this elusive audience.

Take its new horror drama, The Fades. The ‘Fades’ of the title are dead people, visible only to a special few, who have become trapped as ghostly figures on earth and who begin eating humans in order to gain a corporeal presence. The BBC set up a Twitter account for the series (@BBCTheFades) and started 'following' other Tweeters, prompting a viral response as people started tweeting their fear and excitement at being ‘followed by the Fades’. The campaign not only generated buzz (causing @BBCTheFades to start trending) but also invited active participation in the imaginary world of the series before it was even broadcast, blurring the boundaries between promotion and program.

This innovation extended into the promos produced for the series. One made creative use of a QR code, which, when scanned, took viewers to a mobile site offering a sneak peak of the program. A series of particularly creepy promos gradually revealed faces hidden in clouds or flocks of birds, asking ‘Can you see them?’ These promos didn’t just tell the viewer about the new series, they also acted as a call to action, reinforced by their distribution across social networking sites, such as Facebook and YouTube, where viewers could watch and comment simultaneously.

The promotional campaign for The Fades shows how broadcasters are making increasingly inventive use of new media to speak directly to potential viewers in the social spaces that they frequent. Such forms of promotion, however, depend on the labor of the individuals who post on Facebook, Tweet, scan the QR code and search out the meanings of elusive trailers. By encouraging our active engagement this form of promotional ‘tele-participation’ generates investment with a show before it is even broadcast.


 I love this example.  I find examples where some production company is working to further involve the audience in their marketing and storytelling as fascinating places of struggle between structure and agency, dealing with the power dynamics of the traditional commodity audience and the active agent audience to produce an engaged yet controlled transmitter audience.  The fact that the BBC is utilizing social media and producing online experiences to expand the experience of engaging with the content of the show seems to be something producers are doing more and more, especially in regards to younger audiences, the so called digital natives.  

Do you have any information as to the success of the show, and how the intended audience is responding to the show itself?  Do you have a sense for how they are responding to the marketing campaign?

This is a fascinating example; and, yes, it reminded me very much of the Dark Knight viral promotion (CarrieLynn: Thanks for sharing your article on this; I look forward to reading it!).

Catherine: Do you have information about the extent to which the series executives are still cultivating the “labor” of audiences? For example, are online fans contributing the type of feedback that influences the story narrative? Do viewer-participants’ comments have any bearing on the storyline —or are they primarily engagement tools for a target of “media-multitaskers”? 

Thanks for the interesting questions. The interaction with the audience is very much designed to be on-going over the series. The producers post regularly to Facebook and Twitter, sometimes asking questions, sometimes posting sneak-peaks or behind-the-scenes footage. These tend to act as sparks for viewers to comment (usually positively) on their enjoyment of different aspects of the show (the characters, how frightening it is, plot twists etc). And there is a real response - a post asking how viewers liked the most recent episode got 161 comments and 244 'likes'. The responses to the promos on YouTube before the series aired were more mixed, with someone complaining, 'What is it with all these viral campaigns, atm?' but others stating, 'this is cool' and 'Right I'm off to google 'Fades'', which was presumably exactly the response the BBC were looking for!

Because of the production process in the UK there is little space for the viewers to influence the storyline of this particular series - it is only 6 episodes long. However, there are other examples of the BBC using new media to integrate the audience more explicitly into the production process. For example, the BBC produced a spin-off series, E20, for its long-running soap EastEnders. The production started with a competition for young Londoners to write the series, and then there was a competition on the BBC's youth radio station, Radio 1, for remixes of the EastEnders theme tune to be used as in the titles for E20. So there was a real sense here of engaging audiences in the production process, and there was a lot of interest on the Facebook and Twitter sites from audience members who wanted to know how to audition for, or write for, the subsequent seasons of the series.

While the specific topic of your post is indeed interesting, I am left wondering what your response is to the digital divide that seems to be left out of this conversation, particularly in light of the recent social disturbances in England.  The survey you begin with claiming that more young people text and watch digital content than television suffers from some methodological errors - particularly that 179 young people were surveyed, all of whom had internet access as a precursor to being included in the study.  This, of course, leaves out a large number of young people who are of a lower socio-economic bracket.  In turn, that may say more about the marketing of "The Fades" than the method.

I certainly believe you are on to something when it comes to the new media seeking new methods of reaching online audiences, but I am concerned that our assumptions often leave out a significant part of the population.  In turn, this disconnect may be at the root of the types of protests we have seen throughout this year globally.

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