How do you design a successful collateral Web site? For HBO, the process includes working with outside Web designers from the beginning of production to find the key emotional themes in a show or series, then creating content as the series or special is produced.
Jeff Piazza, principal and creative director of Behavior Design, the New York firm behind Web sites for Carnivale, Deadwood,In Treatment and the John Adams miniseries, said his firm comes up with questions for actors, directors and other professionals that help shape the content of a show's site.
The designers have learned from each project what complements a particular show best. For instance, the Deadwood site addressed the series' die-hard fans with in-depth information about getting the show's historic look right. The bulk of the information was about costume design and sets, including an interactive map of the town, where users could click on a building and learn about it.
“We try to understand the nature of a show first, and match the [site] to consumer behaviors as we know it,” HBO senior vice president, brand strategist Allison Moore said.
Different issues are addressed in the site supporting In Treatment. Fans of the patient “treated” on a particular night can track that character and maintain a connection if they miss an episode.
For John Adams, HBO is depicting a vital period in the country's history and wanted a place for fans to go for a more three-dimensional view, said Moore.
“There's so much rich information and only so much can go in the film,” she said. Consumers want extra video and fans are really into the craft that goes into making a show, she added.
Piazza said the miniseries site is the first time the partners have used a Flash Player for all cast and crew pages.
For instance, when a visitor clicks on the picture of John Adams, they are linked to an audio interview of actor Paul Giamatti and other content.
Throughout the site, “you're always being lead somewhere else,” Piazza said.
As the series continues, new features were added each week to keep viewers coming back. As each episode debuted, that became the home page, but a timeline on the site lets users zoom forward and backward in time to access a slide show, read actor biographies or watch behind-the-scenes video.
The sites have matured from a support mechanism to an “extension of the stories” that viewers get on the linear channel, Moore said. The sites don't end with the series, either. Moore said the sites get renewed traffic as a production gets released on DVD or runs in syndication.
Asked whether such sites contribute to subscriber retention, Moore said there was no research per se on retention, but such sites complement monthly subscriptions. Plus, the sites might spark interest from nonsubscribers, syndication viewers and other visitors.
“It seems logical: the more you engage with the Web, the more you engage with the programming,” she said.