How a TV Series Secretly Featured Its Own Fans in the Finale
The Future of TV Series Fan Engagement
How a TV Series Secretly
Featured Its Own Fans in the Finale
July 14, 2020
The Future of TV Series Fan Engagement
How a TV Series
Its Own Fans
in the Finale
July 14, 2020
To say we’re in a new golden age of TV right now would be a massive understatement. In 2019, there were…wait for it…1,179 original series aired in the U.S. Around 400 of those were on Netflix alone. So how on Earth do you make your series stand out, connect with people, and really rise above the chatter online?
For the AMC series “Dispatches From Elsewhere” the answer was nothing short of inspired. And a warning…if you haven’t seen the series, there are spoilers ahead.
Jason Segel, executive producer and actor in the series, along with his cast and crew, wanted to literally bring the audience into the series; but without them even knowing until the finale. And to do this, they knew it would take a lot of planning, preparation, and the use of User-Generated Content (UGC) and the latest smartphone technology.
The Idea Behind The Show, And The Deeper Connection To Viewers.
“Dispatches From Elsewhere” is a high concept TV series that centers on a group of people that get sucked into a mysterious Alternate Reality Game (ARG). As the series progressed, fans of the show were engaged to help solve the mysteries as they were revealed, and it all led to the characters (and viewers) finding a missing artist called Clara.
That was the plan. Putting it into action took serious effort. “We started with creating this sort of parallel universe to the show itself, with competing mysterious organizations and Twitch livestreams of fake mind control experiments and weird conspiracy theories on Reddit and Discord,” said Kevin Dreyfuss, AMC’s VP of digital content.
But beyond that, how do you get people to take part in a series without knowing they’re doing exactly that? And how do you get them filming themselves for you as well?
That’s where fan engagement and UGC came in.
Setting The Stage Started With a Clever Ruse
In September 2019, a series of intriguing job recruitment flyers began appearing at college campuses across America. The basic premise – that your dreams could be recorded, and volunteers were needed to take part in this incredible new study.
These volunteers (over 5,000 of them) were directed to a website that instructed them to download a special mobile app that would be needed to capture footage of themselves.
That app was Cinebody, and it was perfect for this kind of UGC experiment. The producers of the show could leverage Cinebody’s easy onboarding process (just click a link to download), and also create specific shot lists that they wanted fans to capture. One of the biggest was getting everyone to say “I am [Name] and I am you.” Plus the auto upload and organization features meant the footage captured around the globe could be easily accessed and referenced.
Candidates would send in footage, and from there it became a recruitment campaign with Jason Segel himself at the helm.
“Once we knew who we wanted to use, Jason himself wrote a letter to them and contacted them individually and everybody agreed to keep the secret,” said Dreyfuss. “I think these players were having so much fun with it that we had no leaks.”
Clues to the mystery were also put into the actual show, further engaging fans and generating online buzz. And it would all lead to a unique finale.
The Big Reveal and The Incredible Response.
At the end of the series, Segal’s character breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience. But that’s only the beginning of the surprise. From there, both Segel and Richard E. Grant show footage captured by the fans themselves. Watch it here, but again…HUGE spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the show.
The response from the fans was amazing. Here are just a few of the many YouTube comments:
“Thank you for this experience show was amazing🖤” – Dan Best
“Wow for someone who’s wanted to be a filmmaker since 3rd grade this hit me.” – Superhero Blueberry Gaming
“Even tho I watched every episode alone I still felt connected <3” – Ecadian
At a time when the pandemic was isolating people, that last comment is probably the most powerful of all. The footage brought people together even when they couldn’t be in the same room.
What Does This Mean For the Future of TV Series?
This is just the beginning of truly connected TV experiences. Think about this. Jason Segel and his crew were able to engage fans in an interactive experience on a TV series no-one had heard of. They got them to download an app, immerse themselves in a mystery, and participate in the finale without ever knowing that’s what they were doing.
And what’s more, capturing the fan footage wasn’t elaborate or expensive. They used their own phones to create the content, and the app did the rest. If a smaller TV series like “Dispatches From Elsewhere” can do it, imagine the possibilities for an original series the size of Stranger Things or Westworld. And not just TV, but movies, bands, brands, and more.
After the success of this experiment, it will be exciting to see what happens next. Watch this space.