Thursday, April 12, 2007

Why Heroes raises the bar for multiplatform media

Last year Dan Hill (ex-BBC, now director of web and broadcast at Monocle) wrote an extremely erudite post on why Lost is genuinely new media. One year on and multiplatform media has a new poster child in the form of Heroes which has taken Lost's exploitation of interactive platforms (and the web in particular) to the next level.

First let's look at NBC's 'official' online offering (which, tellingly, is increasingly hard to delineate from 'unofficial' offerings). In addition to the text-based staples of plot synopses, character/actor profiles and interviews, the site has ramped up the content offer in three key areas: video, take-away content and participative features.


As well as the usual video clips, full episodes can be watched on-demand (in the US) via an embedded Flash player, with added functionality appropriated from the DVD experience of chapter points and exclusive cast commentaries (you can even change the audio levels and size of both video windows - see below screengrab). The site also offers video character profiles and behind the scenes footage. This sort of 'value added' content, coupled with on-demand streaming of full episodes, gives users a compelling reason to watch online.

Take-away content

Another key element of NBC's Heroes site is take-away content, from bog-standard wallpaper downloads (both PC and mobile) and e-cards, to more innovative instant messenger icons, widgets (embedded below), MySpace skins and graphic novels (downloadable in .pdf format). Enabling users to take a manifestation of the brand away from the site and display it on their desktop/mobile/blog/MySpace page/IM client and share it with their friends clearly has significant benefits for building brand loyalty and exploiting the power of word of mouse.

Participative features

One of the most impressive aspects of NBC's Heroes site is its range of participative features. In addition to simple quizzes and an interactive map the site runs the full gamut of user participation tools (message board, blog, wiki, user-submitted video). It even features a gallery of Heroes fan artwork, although the most innovate participative element of the NBC site has to be the Heroes Two Screen Experience which actively encourages users to log on during the broadcast to take part in polls and quizzes and interact with other viewers. The extent to which visitors can leave their mark on the Heroes site is unprecedented for a flagship programme site from a major broadcaster.

Whilst arguably cluttered in places, the site is also successful from a presentational point of view, combining consistent navigational elements with randomised promo slots which showcase the breadth of content available on the site.

Web as canvas

Of course, the official NBC site is just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to sites from syndicated broadcasters around the globe (e.g. SCI-FI UK), there are a number of semi-official spin-off sites. 9th Wonders (in addition to being a metaphysical comic-book drawn by one of the characters within the drama) is the name of the "official/unofficial fan site", Beaming Beeman is the blog of Director/Producer Greg Beeman and, and are all dummy sites which form part of the Heroes 360 Experience alternate reality game, which "through original content created specifically for TV, online, and mobile...lets you explore, interact, and discover exciting new characters, sneak peaks, new and expanded storylines and much more."

The Heroes 360 Experience probably warrants a separate blog post. For the moment I'll link to its Wikipedia entry and a video of Heroes' creator Tim Kring discussing the multiplatform ambition and how they use the online chat around the programme as a feedback loop to find out what worked and what didn't.

In Dan Hill's aforementioned post on Lost, he talks about the 'web as canvas'; a notion which Heroes epitomises, not only through it's official daubings (which include a MySpace profile with 45,000 friends and the Zeroes viral video spoof, embedded below, which was seeded to various video sharing sites without any NBC branding) but also through huge swathes of unofficial audience created content.

Audience as creators

In addition to the content aggregated on television sites such as BuddyTV, TVRage and CNET's, Heroes boasts a huge number of unofficial sites, message boards and blogs. Below is a snapshot of just some of the English language sites devoted to Heroes.

Like Lost, Heroes also has an unofficial wiki, which currently comprises almost 1,000 articles (significantly more than NBC's official Heroes wiki) and the series has already spawned at least 10 podcasts (The 9th, The 10th Wonder, 3 Heroes, Cranky Hero, Hero Worship Podcast, Heroescast, Podcast Heroes, Save The Cheerleader Podcast, Sidekicks and The Heroes Podcast with Jeremiah).

More innovative user-generated offerings include a Heroes Character Map, which charts the relationships between the various protagonists and Incidental Heroes - a weekly fan-produced online video series (Episode 1 embedded below).

Below is a broad-brushstrokes attempt to visualise the growth in official and user-created content around Heroes over time (click for enlargement). Note how the user-created content builds in anticipation of the first broadcast, rockets once the show is on air and accelerates in response to new markets (e.g. SCI-FI premiere) or official content initiatives (e.g. Heroes 360 experience).

In view of the volume and diversity of interactive activity around Heroes, it's impressive to note that NBC aren't resting on their laurels, with an expansion of the 360 Experience concept and a suite of social networking tools both in the pipeline. Would be interesting to know both investment and traffic levels for the official Heroes site which is reputedly the biggest driver of traffic to


Anonymous said...

A very nice article about Heroes. I must point out one official part of the 360 experience that you overlooked. is a very important site for those participating in the ARG (Alternate Reality Game)/360 experience.

Frank said...

Linked to your article:

And yes, you cannot forget Hana's site. While slow at times, it's also given us some very essential information.

Serena said...

[response to the above commenter]
That makes Hana's blog a part of the Heroes 360 Experience.

Anonymous said...

Also linked to your article:

This is a wonderful one-stop-shopping experience for those new to (and cautiously exploring) the Heroes 360 goings-on. I'll probably be plugging this article again in my next recap for TVRules. Thank you!

Cold Chilli said...

They forgot 2 very good podcasts

Anonymous said...

I have also provided a link on the OWI messgae boards to this article. Great statistics...I am glad the OWI is a part of the experience!

Anonymous said...

Good write-up, but even with all that quality hype and marketing that's been built around the show, let's not forget the actual content quality has to be good, even excellent, to get anyone even remotely interested in the first place. Heroes excels there (or have I fallen to the hype?!)