CTV makes multi-platform promo play for Saving Hope

Calling the marketing campaign for the series' January return "unprecedented," network exec Mike Cosentino breaks down how CTV is courting viewers across platforms.

Building on the ratings win it achieved in season one and the first half of season two, CTV is pulling out all the stops to promote season “2B” of its original medical drama, Saving Hope.

Calling the promotional campaign “unprecedented” on the network, Mike Cosentino, SVP of programming, CTV Networks, says the leadup to the Thursday Jan. 2 9 p.m. mid-season premiere includes network advertising, a “catch up” marathon of season “2A” over the holidays, social media campaigns and a new webisode series, Last Call. Not to mention a timeslot previously occupied by the mighty Grey’s Anatomy.

Saving Hope is produced by Ilana C Frank Films (ICF Films) with Entertainment One Television (eOne), in association with CTV. Its second season debuted this summer, was on hiatus for the fall, and returns in January.

“This is one of the most robust, complex  initiatives that we’ve ever planned,” Cosentino tells Playback.  “Saving Hope is enjoying an almost unprecedented level of support on screen, in marketing, in how we’re programming the season, the timing of the GO app, the binge viewing we’re delivering, and Last Call. Together [as a whole], those are  things we’ve never done before.”

With a target demo that Trinh Tham, senior director of marketing, Bell Media, says is “18-49, 25-54 audience that skews slightly female,” Saving Hope has been a summer hit for the network, averaging 1.3 million viewers per week. So when CTV programmers learned that the popular Grey’s Anatomy would be planning a split season with a planned hiatus in early 2014, Cosentino saw an opportunity to introduce a split season.

“We gave Saving Hope an extended order of 18 episodes,” Cosentino explained to Playback. “We ran nine of them in the summer. I held another nine back, because last summer, we could see that we would have a Thursday at 9 p.m. opportunity in January. We knew that Grey’s Anatomy was taking a hiatus for about nine weeks. The feeling was that Saving Hope really could fit into that Grey’s Anatomy timeslot.”

The campaign begins at 10 p.m. on CTV on Christmas Day, as the first of nine successive season two episodes begins airing through Jan. 1, 2014.

Cosentino says it’s one opportunity for loyal viewers to catch up and another for new fans to get their first look at Saving Hope,  which stars Erica Durance (Smallville), Daniel Shanks (Stargate SG-1) and Daniel Gillies (The Vampire Diaries).

“Episodes one to nine tell an important story,” Cosentino tells Playback. ” It is what I would call a serialized procedural, so the episodes will stand alone, but there is a story arc that is unfolding over 18 episodes. The episode that lands January 2 is the first of a two-week, two-part series premiere.

“This is the beauty of knowing our plan so far ahead of time,” he adds. “We asked our producers to generate a two-part storyline with a cliffhanger, knowing that we would want to launch the second half of our season in a big way.”

CTV is also delivering a transmedia component to Saving Hope, the 12-episode companion series Last Call, which Cosentino calls “bite-size, 5-to-10 minute” episodes of original content. Three new Last Call episodes are scheduled to bow in January.

“One of the things we’re trying to think about in terms of digital is thinking about it as content,” Cosentino tells Playback. “I think digital has graduated, and it’s no longer the description of a platform, but how things are consumed. For us, we’re just calling it a content plan, so for us,  our content plan and strategy for series like Saving Hope, is to create companion series that live on our non-linear, digital platforms.

“The idea for Last Call specifically is to leverage the TV show and its popularity; leverage that audience using the TV screen and Saving Hope to drive viewers to our non-linear platforms where they can watch Last Call. The hope is that we can generate more storylines, more character appeal, a deeper experience, so that fans of Saving Hope can get more out of the brand and the franchise. It’s important for us to keep a fan base like that loyal and keep giving them more content that we hope they enjoy.”

He says the beauty of Last Call episodes is that they’re short, sweet and offer additional advertising opportunities.

“You don’t need to be there for an hour,” Cosentino explains.  “You get in and you get out – it’s an opportunity to drive a little more  of experience for our viewers. We can run clients’ advertising in front of it to deliver that kind of opportunity to our advertising partners.”

An additional bonus for Erica Durance fans is the Dec. 27, 8 p.m. airing of I Me Wed, a made-for-TV movie Durance filmed back in 2007. Cosentino said it was a no-brainer to make the Friday night a Durance theme night.

“She is such a terrific actor with star appeal and she has a massive following all the way back to her Smallville days,” say Cosentino. “So we acquired I Me Wed as kind of an Erica Durance vehicle and what you’ll see throughout the two hours are Erica-specific promos for Saving Hope.”

From the social media aspect, Bell Media’s Trinh Tham reports a Saving Hope Facebook following of 12,500 fans and a Twitter following of just under 5000 followers, but says the network will be looking to build those numbers with a content-posting strategy.

With a third season already on the way, predicted big things for the show’s future should the promotional experiment be a success.

“There’s no question that the Thursday audience universe can put Saving Hope is a place where it could drive more viewers. I think it’ll do well. I don’t really have a number that I would disclose, except that I would expect to see at least that fan base come back. The danger when we move Saving Hope to January from summer, where it’s been for two years, is that you want to trust that our marketing plan pays off and the fan base, and that people who love the show for two summers understand that it’s coming back, and this time in January.

As well as the marathon, all nine aired episodes of Saving Hope are available on demand at CTV.ca/Saving Hope and the CTV GO App.

And hopefully, with this concerted launch, for many years to come.

“If we do our jobs correctly, and our marketing plan is effective, and I think it is, then I hope we can really ignite Saving Hope in what is a traditionally home-run time slot, Thursday at 9 p.m.,” says CTV’s Cosentino. ” I think it’s a real show of confidence in the series.”