You need to wake up. It's time to evolve. I don't mean the way you say to your little brother when he puts your panties on his head and runs around the house. I don't even mean the way you say it to your husband when he drinks one too many adult beverages, wakes up the next morning and asks why he's got a splitting headache either. You need to wake up and evolve because you finally have a quality product in Outlander, and you've done nothing to take your own brand to the next level. You need to wake up and evolve because, in comparison to HBO, you're barely even an amoeba. And, it shouldn't have to be that way. Here's why...
Listen, this isn't hate mail. It's really not. My wife and I enjoy Outlander a lot. In fact, we've created a pretty popular podcast AND blog dedicated to that very show. We like it THAT much. So please don't misunderstand me when I say "you're barely even an amoeba." Look at this letter as being more of a "come-to-Jesus" moment for you, as opposed to me throwing darts at your extremely vulnerable behind. What I say here comes from only a place of peace and love.
[cut for length]
I may have compared you to HBO (the fairness of the comparison is also debatable), but I don't want you to be HBO. In fact, you can't. And that's ok. But, you have to admit that they are doing all the right things for their content and their network. So, you should at least be inspired by them. This letter is a guide to what you can do to fix your meandering faults and past transgressions. In other words, with this letter, I want you to help me help you.
You see, I watch a LOT of television and films. You could probably call me a junkie for good TV. I'm a J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof sycophant. Vince Gilligan and David Chase can do no wrong in my opinion; I'm definitely an apologist for all things Bryan Fuller and Mitch Hurwitz, and, please, don't even mention the name Chris Carter or else I'll literally pass out as I write this. So, as you can see, I have a pretty unique perspective.
With that said, I've noticed that the key to quality programming isn't just about good storytelling (otherwise Arrested Development, Firefly, Freaks and Geeks, and Twin Peaks would still be around - probably). No my fickle friend, the key to transcendent programming is a mix between quality story, money spent, and a dynamic marketing campaign.
We all know that HBO is the man among little boys. They've got everything down perfect. The best talent, the best directors, and the best product all flock to their offices in New York. When one produces the likes of Game Of Thrones, True Detective, The Soprano's, The Leftovers, Veep, Boardwalk Empire et al, you can do basically anything you want. So it's easy for them. AND IT SHOULD BE. HBO spends money on their productions, they collaborate with all kinds of media (yes, this is a specific reference to podcasts and blogs), and they market like they invented the concept of marketing.
AMC comes in as a close second - the have extremely quality content, they're willing to take chances (Breaking Bad, anyone?), they know how to get their product out into the aether with the best of them (looking at you, The Walking Dead), but they fall short because they're too stiff with their funds (poor, poor Matthew Weiner and Mad Men.)
But, you - **deep sigh** you, my dear STARZ have blown it. You've blown it because after years of putting out sub standard product, you finally have a good (encroaching great) series in Outlander and you've done the bare minimum to give it the juice it deserves.
Have you spent money on it? You're damn right you have. Filming on location is not only hard, but extremely expensive. Just ask Anna Foerster or Kristyan Mallett.
True, you have Ron Moore as the show runner - and he did create one of the top 10 greatest shows of all time in Battlestar Galactica. So, if you're smart, you'll stay out of his way and let the man do his thing because he has a proven track record. But I think you probably already know that.
Even in that same vein, you were smart by selecting a series that already has an established fandom. It would be like taking Harry Potter, Twilight, or even The Hunger Games and making into a weekly show. (side note - who wouldn't want to see those movies as a premium cable series? Well, maybe not Twilight.) Smart move.
Furthermore, you've plucked actors out of obscurity to play the leads, and you've sprinkled in some character actors to help flesh out the rest of the cast. Also smart. But, when I look at this from afar, is that your doing? Or is it the genius that is Maril Davis? Perhaps it's all Ron Moore. These are creative choices, and those are usually left to the people who are proficient at being creative. So, if it's my guess - I'm saying it's probably the latter and not you.
So let's take a look at some of your decisions as of late:
1. Breaking Outlander season 1 into two different parts: horrible choice. That's a way to kill casual fan's interest right away. Maybe you sucked people in with the first half, but the normal TV - goer will lose track of you if they aren't given the entire season up front. They'll forget when it comes back on, miss the second half, and then get discouraged because they're too far behind in your serialized show. Sure, do you get to have two "premieres" and two "finales" by splitting the season up? Yup. But, at what creative and marketing cost? Did The Reckoning feel like a satisfactory premiere to you? Not me. In fact, critics largely call it a disjointed episode to the beginning of a disjointed second half season. Moreover, the second half felt like a totally different show altogether. Not saying I didn't enjoy it, but to some (including me), it felt like a "bait and switch." You got us all hot-to-trot on the first half and then totally changed the tone of the story. Granted, that's where the story went in the book, but perhaps this glaring tonal shift would not have been magnified if you kept it all as one continuous season.
2. The lack of streaming: Congratulations, you have Starz Play. If one subscribes to STARZ, then one can download Starz Play and access your content on the go. It's a step in the right direction. But, there's a weak collection of films available, and you don't have enough quality original content to attract masses. To that end, there are limited providers that are compatible with the app, and you can only download it on certain devices. But how about the people who want your content but can't afford to have a full cable package? Why do you not have the equivalent of HBO NOW? And then, the real issue, you pulled your streaming rights from Netflix, and have no future plans, according to your CEO Chris Albrecht, to stream on any service because it's a "myopic content business strategy for media companies." So, because you apparently made "pennies" from streaming on Netflix, it's not worth it? If it's so "myopic," then why have HBO and Amazon reached a deal to stream all their content? Is it just about the money? Or is it arrogance that you think your product is worth more than it is?
How about actually exposing your product to people? Is that worth it? I'm sure Vince Gilligan from Breaking Bad would have a big objection to your "myopic" contention. Let me explain: The first four seasons of Breaking Bad averaged between 1.5 to 3 million viewers in the ratings. Then before the fifth season aired, AMC announced the series would be available for streaming which led to TRIPLE the viewership by the time the series had it's finale. Ugh - and as of this writing, you only have the first eight episode available for download on iTunes. So, in the end, the people who want to spend the money to consume your content can't even consume the whole thing! Perhaps you think that this will boost DVD sales (more on this later), and you'll be able to pocket the money because the only place people can get your content is through STARZ. This is short sighted because people no longer consume that way. It's like trying to boost VHS sales during the DVD boom by only releasing a movie on VHS. You're swimming upstream. Trust me, we put a man on the moon - you can figure out an app and better streaming options. Which leads me to my next point.
3. Not allowing your network to be on commercial cable accounts: Here's the deal, a bar, a hotel, or any kind of company with a commercial subscription is not able to access your content. Again - WTF?!? Do you know that in New York, some bar's most popular and profitable nights ALL YEAR come on the night that Game Of Thrones airs on HBO? Why? Because people can't afford to subscribe to HBO so they all gather in a place that has the subscription and watch it together. Now, does that encourage personal subscription as much? No. But, it exposes your content to tens of thousands of people who normally wouldn't see it. Perhaps if they like it enough, they'll save up the ten extra bucks per month and subscribe so they don't have to go to the bars anymore when your show comes on. Once again, we put a man on the moon - figure it out.
4. Your content has been horrible up until now: I'm sure David S. Goyer would tell me otherwise (and he may have a case because he helped write one of the greatest films of all time in The Dark Knight), but DaVinci's Demons sucks. So does Black Sails. Sorry, but it's true. Camelot (despite the gorgeous and exquisitely talented Eva Green) was sub par. And then you have the likes of Party Down (awful), Survivor's Remorse (??????), Magic City(?!?!?!?!?!?), The White Queen (decent at best) and The Missing (not bad). Power? Yikes. Although, I will give you credit for a good, if not uneven run for Spartacus. My point is, you haven't done yourself any favors up until Outlander, Ash vs. Evil Dead, and Blunt Talk. Thank you for making better choices as of late, but no one will subscribe, let alone trust your content enough, if your content keeps being sub par.
5. Where, oh where, is any semblance of a viral marketing campaign, or even, any marketing for that matter?: Please learn from the likes of LOST, The Leftovers, Game Of Thrones, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. Have you ever done some Draping? It's effing awesome. Or, did you see The Guilty Remnant take over Times Square last year? Or Anything they did for The Leftovers all year? Thank Damon Lindelof for that. How about the LOST Find 815 campaign, Dharma Initiative Recruting Project, or the LOST ARG? Or all the merchandise that Game Of Thrones produces? Or how could we EVER forget the "Respect The Chemistry" series for Breaking Bad?
You haven't even done the likes of advertising outside of New York or LA for extended periods of time. What about the fact that Bear McCreary has been nominated for an Emmy for his work on Outlander, and you've done nothing to truly promote that accomplishment? Or, your Outlander season 1 vol. 2 DVD is coming out on September 29, and I had to Google the date to know when it was happening for this article? I HAVE A PODCAST for this show. Of all the people who consume your content, I should know it right off the top of my head and I don't. How will people know when to buy, or what to buy of your product if you aren't even advertising it properly? But let's take it even further - where are the billboards? Where are the buses/buildings/benches/book stores covered in Outlander garb? Where are Jacobite recruiting stations? Where are the unruly Scotsmen taking over downtown Boston, Chicago, NY, or LA? Where are the Outlander inspired Tartans? How about an Outlander Whisky? I could go on and on but I think you get the idea....
6. You haven't embraced social media and alternative media: Sure, you have social accounts and occasionally you put up some cute pictures, Q & A sessions, or quotes. Occasionally you'll engage with some fans on Twitter, and you'll do a cutesie deal with Walkers Shortbread. BUT, there is no REAL engagement with your audience. Your audience is, for the most part, savvy enough to join these communities and listen to podcasts and write blogs. They want to talk about you, learn about you, and consume more of your show in Outlander. But, you're not letting them. You need to be more up-to-date about how you disseminate your information, your content, and your brand. Why? BECAUSE IT'S FREE ADVERTISING, and it's just as valuable, if not more, than some random billboard. People describe passion, and love far more articulately than a commercial. Your fans, and their word, are more valuable. Trust me. These media are written by your fans, for your fans. You need to embrace that more whole heartedly.
Listen, I know it sounds like I want you to be HBO from all the things I have listed. In a way, that's right. Did the USFL want to be like the NFL? Of course. Who wouldn't? But where the USFL went wrong is that it tried to BECOME the NFL and surpass it. It was unrealistic then, and it's unrealistic now. Thus, it failed.
So, in the end, no, I don't want you to be HBO. I don't even want you to try and THINK about beating them either. I just want you to be STARZ. You don't have to become the most prominent premiere cable network in the land. You just have to put yourself in the right spot to be considered in that class. You have to be you, and be good at it.
HBO will not be toppled and I don't even want you to try. They won't be toppled in the same way that ESPN will always be the World Wide Leader in Sports, or the fact that America will always "run on Dunkin," or NBC, ABC, or CBS just can't find a way to make good original content. (I hate you CSI, NCIS, and every incarnation thereof.) It will always be that way. But, you can do better by the fans and the content they love by making your brand more interesting and more accessible.
Do you know how many people I have spoken to that not only do not watch Outlander because they don't have STARZ, but also because they've either never heard of you, or the show? It's sickening. True, was Game Of Thrones the zeitgeist it is now after it's first season? Nope. But, EVERYONE at least heard about it. And I would argue that Outlander season 1 was just a good and entertaining as Game Of Thrones season 1 - if not more.
What does that tell me? It's not the content. It's you. And that's ok. Just do the right thing and fix your strategy.
You've kinda/ sorta started to spend the money. You have the beginnings of some good talent/content. You've clearly also made Outlander your flagship show (and it should be). Now you just have to wake up, evolve, and go the extra mile for it.
I swear, I love you. I really do.