MTV is that most social of TV channels—the network has over 100 million Facebook fans all in, recently announced several major social TV elements around its MTV Movie Awards, and has experimented with a range of co-viewing initiatives in the last several years.
Now MTV has launched Teen Wolf: The Hunt, a social TV experience that gives fans of the Teen Wolf series the opportunity to "friend" the show’s characters via Facebook and interact with them one-on-one in real time online and via mobile while trying to solve an interactive mystery.
"Millennials want to have this radical intimacy with the stars of the shows and feel like they are in the shows and part of them, and this is a very natural way to bring them in," says Tina Exarhos, EVP of Marketing and Multiplatform Creation at MTV, MTV2, mtvU, and MTV.com.
At the outset of The Hunt, three of Teen Wolf’s main characters—Scott, Allison, and Stiles—ask their new Facebook friends to help them find Lydia. (As we saw in the second season opener, which premiered last night after the MTV Movie Awards, the teenager disappears from the hospital where she is being treated for werewolf bites.) Scott, Allison, and Stiles reach out via email as well as audio and video messages that fans can share, discuss, and analyze with their wider social circle.
While the story that plays out in The Hunt over the next eight weeks will run parallel to what’s happening on air, the plots will diverge, and The Hunt will take players on a separate adventure that ties into what is happening on the TV show but also allows participants to experience new things with the characters. The Hunt is also individualized—the path you take through the mystery depends on choices you make along the way.
And you don’t have to be a regular viewer of Teen Wolf—or even watch the show at all—to understand and take part in The Hunt. "Building The Hunt was definitely about rewarding and retaining those super fans," Exarhos says. "But we were also thinking, if you aren’t a viewer of the show, how do we actually entice you in and hopefully, make you a viewer, or just make the experience so great that even if you’re not a viewer you’re going to want to engage in this experience anyway?"
It came down to telling a great story that was compelling on its own terms, Exarhos says, noting that while The Hunt has game-like elements, the content will only gain traction if it weaves a tale that people get caught up in.
To that end, Teen Wolf’s writers, including executive producer Jeff Davis, scripted the mystery that plays out in The Hunt. "Jeff Davis is a guy who gets this stuff and understands that engaging fans across every platform is a fantastic way to take those false confines away and really, really get the audience amped up and further engaged," says Kristin Frank, General Manager of MTV and VH1 Digital, noting his involvement was crucial in ensuring that the entire experience was not only entertaining but authentic.
Complementary digital content like The Hunt is part of MTV’s wider "storytelling without borders" strategy. "It’s about removing those traditional confines of telling a story and engaging the audience across all screens during a show, between shows, between seasons, and doing it on all platforms and doing it in a way that’s relevant to that platform and the voice of that platform," Frank explains, noting, "Our audience is expecting an incremental arc and story narrative to be playing out in addition to what’s happening on the linear screen."
Providing this additional content has helped MTV grow a massive social fan base. To wit: The network topped over 100 million Facebook likes for its network and show pages earlier this year.
Teen Wolf ended its first season last year with an amazing number of fans in the social space (with nearly 1 million Facebook at the time), according to Exarhos, but the network was nervous about losing them given that the second season of the show was a year away. A bridge strategy was formulated with the goal of not only retaining fans but also adding more in the social sphere. To do that, MTV, working with Teen Wolf's showrunner, provided a steady stream of additional exclusive, never-before-seen show-related content via primarily Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. "So if you were a fan, you never felt like Teen Wolf went away," Exarhos says.
The effort paid off: In the nine-month gap between season one ending and promotion for season two beginning, the show’s social community grew by over 50%t—Teen Wolf's Facebook fans numbered nearly 1.5 million just prior to the show’s second season premiere.
Exarhos notes that the approach used to successfully grow and engage the social community for Teen Wolf might not necessarily work with other MTV series—there is no one-size-fits-all solution. "It seems kind of obvious, but that has been a key learning for us," Exarhos says. "Every single idea and plan needs to be really authentic and organic to the creative reach of the specific show."