Starz, for its latest original series, will set sail on its most comprehensive sampling and marketing campaign to date.
Executive-produced by Transformers overseer Michael Bay, Black Sails will make its U.S. linear premiere on Starz on Jan. 25 at 9 p.m. (ET/PT). The show, which has already been renewed for a sophomore season, will air in more than 120 countries/territories worldwide.
Prior to the linear launch of the prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island, Starz will engage in a multiplatform sampling initiative and linear preview effort beginning Jan. 18 that encompasses online and on-demand platforms, including traditional multichannel/MVPD afiliates and non-traditional digital partners such as Amazon Instant Video, iTunes Podcasts, Machinima, Maxim and Xbox Video.
Building on gambits it has deployed to introduce other originals, including DaVinci’s Demons, Magic City and the Spartacus franchise, Starz’s unprecedented flag-waving for Black Sails is aimed at boosting awareness for the show and the brand, viewing and ultimately consumer acquisition of the service.
“We think Black Sails is a special show and Michael Bay’s involvement speaks volume to its quality,” Nancy McGee, executive vice president of consumer marketing for Starz Entertainment, said. “We’re placing a lot of effort behind driving demand for the show and think it also has great value for our affiliates.”
Starz, in a co-branded gambit with Time Warner Cable, screened the first episode — the inaugural campaign comprises eight installments, the sophomore run extends to 10 — last summer at Comic-Con in San Diego, where it was received well by fans of pirate-genre fare.
McGee said while such content skews male, Starz thinks Black Sails will attract its share of women, attracted by its dramatic and action components. “There are historical elements and it’s a gritty conflict,” Thornton said, pointing toward the HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones as a program that also garners female viewership.
The tale has also traveled well across international waters. Reflective of the story’s strength and relationships forged with partners abroad on previous projects, Black Sails represents Starz’s strongest global pre-sale for an original series to date.
“There is great awareness worldwide for the show and our brand,” Starz chief revenue officer Michael Thornton said. “It’s nice to have strong international revenue coming out of the gate.”
Overall, McGee said Starz wants to create buzz for the show and help stoke acquisition of the service. The sampling efforts, with both traditional distribution affiliates and over-the-top players, highlight call-to-action messaging.
Starting on Jan. 12, Starz is partnering with Charter Communications on an instant-upgrade premium acquisition campaign with customized promotional spots and a sweepstakes component with Luke Arnold, who plays John Silver, according to Amy Bell, senior vice president of brand and affiliate marketing.
“We’re all trying to break through with consumers,” McGee said. “There’s always a sense of challenge, a temptation to try and do something that’s never been done before. Our focus has been on reaching a core audience and helping our partners to advance their businesses. There is a wide breadth of sampling and marketing, and we’re looking forward to excellent executions of our tactics.”
Sampling outlets include: Starz On Demand and Starz.com, Starz Play and the Starz YouTube channel and Facebook page; Comcast’s Xfinity TV, Xfinity TV app for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch and Facebook page; Time Warner Cable on-demand (TV-14 episode); Cox on-demand and Facebook (TV-MA episode) / Cox.com (TV-14 episode); Mediacom on-demand (TV-MA episode); DirecTV on Demand, Audience Network, DVR push, directv.com and Facebook page; Dish Network’s Blockbuster Studio channel, DishOnline.com, DVR push and Facebook page. Moreover, early looks at Black Sails will be available on-demand platforms proffered by Armstrong, Bend Broadband, Bright House, Blue Ridge, Buckeye, CenturyLink, Cequel, Choice Puerto Rico, Cincinnati Bell, Click!, Consolidated, Everest, HTC, MCTV/Clear Picture Inc., Midcontinent Communications, Service Electric Cablevision and SureWest Communications.
Other sampling will transpire on these outlets:
*Amazon Instant Video: Black Sails first episode sampling on Jan. 18 with 10+ additional featurettes
* iTunes Podcasts: First episode, featurettes and behind-the-scenes content will be released on an ongoing basis, beginning Jan. 18
*Machinima: Marking Starz's initial play with the provider, the sampling efforts encompasses the first episode on Jan. 18 on YouTube channel on Machinima Prime Channel and Facebook page. Additional content including videos, trailers and featurettes including “The Bloody Truth of Pirates” featurettes “Code of Conduct,” “Black Sails Characters Facts and Fictions” and “The Ways of Pirate Torture”
*Maxim: Starz's inaugural gambit here includes digital sampling and extension of marketing partnerships.
*XBox Video: This effort entails Black Sails first episode sampling on Jan. 18, including more than 10 featurettes and materials released on an ongoing basis until complete season is released. The complete first season is available for pre-sale. On-store promotion during The White Queen EST release on Jan. 18, as well as shortly after the season finale. The XBox App will also sample Black Sails via Starz Play on XBox platform
While several key retailers like Best Buy and Amazon are promoting tune-in messaging, customers who preorder the entire first season of Black Sails on Blu-Ray/DVD at Wal-Mart Stores will have early sampling access, via VUDU beginning Jan. 28, to the first Black Sails episode, as well as exclusive bonus footage and other Starz Originals, notably Da Vinci’s Demons, The White Queen, Magic City, Camelot and Spartacus.
Starz has also opened a treasure-trove of marketing tactics behind Black Sails. The multimillion, multimedia plan spans television, digital, cinema, outdoor and print, plus a PiratesWanted.com website. Moreover, the Skullify app -- desktop and iPhone version -- allows fans to put themselves in Black Sails key art and share through Facebook and Twitter. Additional promotional partnerships include Captain Morgan’s Rum and a line of Black Sails-inspired jewelry from King Baby.
Starz will deploy billboards in New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, where there will be a battle of Captain Morgan/Black Sails "Black vs Black War" through dueling boards. Positioned across from one another on Sunset Boulevard, the Captain Morgan and Black Sails displays showcase 3-D cannons mounted on top of each board. Cannon holes appear on each one throughout the campaign, which began on Dec. 30 and runs Feb. 2.
The game plan also includes the first illuminated busses in LA and NYC.
On the print side, Starz has secured space in Rolling Stone, TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, Los Angeles Times and The New York Times
The TV schedule manifests with buys on local cable, network cable, national broadcast, and interactive program guides.
The premium programmer's digital doings will appear on YouTube, Maxim, Deadline, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, Bleacher Report, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, TV Line, Yahoo!, IMDb and Machinima.
Given the series' theatrical look, Starz is also heavily invested in that medium. The Black Sails campaign includes NCM’s FirstLook pre-show program in AMC, Cinemark, Regal Entertainment Group and other top movie theaters nationwide. The 60-second commercial ran onscreen in the full network -- over 25,000 screens in 3,400 theaters -- from Dec. 20-26. Its currently in flight through Jan. 23. Additionally, a 90-second spot ran in the Lobby Entertainment Network (over 1,400 theaters) in December and will ramp up again from Jan. 17-23.