Fox Gleeful About Fall TV Digital Strategy

As TV gets back into gear for the fall season, there’s a fresh opportunity for digital initiatives. We’ve been chatting with our network and video platform contacts about what’s in store for viewers. Today, we’ll highlight Fox’s plans.

If you had to use one word to sum up Fox’s digital plans for the fall TV season, it would be “glee.” The network is ecstatic about the early buzz for its show of the same name, and it’s focusing its online efforts on milking the hype.

With only three episodes to its name, Glee gets a contest powered by Thingfo to determine the show’s biggest fan across multiple social networks, a karaoke competition on MySpace, Twitter accounts for its characters, and a “tweet-peat” Twitter conversation between cast and fans overlaid on a rerun of the premiere episode.

Glee represents a blank slate for the network, which took the unusual approach of first airing the pilot in May, four months before the season kicked off. “We don’t always get to do what we would want to do because you have to have a lot of stars aligned — network, studio, the guilds have to OK everything,” said Hardie Tankersley, VP Online Content & Strategy at Fox Broadcasting Co., in a recent phone interview. That’s why you might not see a ton of Family Guy web extras, though the show is tremendously popular online. “Newer shows are definitely easier,” said Tankersley.

Fox knew the musical dark comedy was a bit of an oddball. “The show is hard to explain, so we were trying to figure how to market it,” said Tankersley. “When people did see it, they sort of went nuts.” After the early TV premiere, Fox kept the show available online over the summer as a free download on iTunes, and via streaming on and Hulu.

Now that the season is finally ramping up, Fox is partnering with Hitviews to promote Glee through its roster of YouTube stars. So, for instance, Michael Buckley of What the Buck is applying his trademark mile-a-minute enthusiasm to the show (see embed above) — which he says he fell in love with independently — using officially sanctioned clips and encouraging his own fans to declare themselves “GLEEks.”

Tankersley said the “tweet-peats,” which Fox also used for sophomore show Fringe (and annoyed some fans by covering up on-screen action with tweets) attracted about 10,000 tweets per broadcast. He said it’s likely Fox will reuse the concept next year for reruns aired in the run-up to the fall season, when viewership traditionally drops.

Fox is also having some writers tweet in character for Glee — as it’s also doing for Homer Simpson, and NBC is doing for 30 Rock characters. And guess what — the tweets are pretty funny (see the example to the left)! Here are Twitter accounts for Glee and the characters Rachel, Sue, Quinn and Kurt.

Tankersley said Fox would hypothetically monetize the Twitter feeds by showing sponsor ads on their pages — like what Time is doing with Siemens. In most other cases, web efforts will be meant to act as marketing for the shows, and won’t likely be monetized themselves.

Fox already uses the Move Networks video player to stream in HD with adaptive bitrates, so Tankersley said not to expect much in the way of changes there (as compared to other networks, like CBS, which are upgrading for the fall). He also said not to expect any web originals or dedicated apps for Fox shows. Hankersley has told us in the past that he doesn’t see a business in web series.”My skepticism remains intact,” he said. “We have yet to see anybody’s web original become a hit, and we’re in the hit business.” As for apps, it’s pretty much the same thing: “I haven’t figured out how to do an app that’s really interesting.”

Where Tankersley does want to ramp up innovation is on advertising formats for streamed TV. Fox will be experimenting with “pause ads” and clickable interstitials to figure out what units work best.

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