Despite announcing record profits at last week's AGM, Sky does not appear content to rest on its laurels. The broadcaster recently unveiled Neon, its subscription video on demand (SVOD) offering, and from today it will be screening a new channel called The Zone.
Designed to fill the sci-fi void in Sky's programming, the new channel will screen horror, fantasy, science-fiction, cult and superhero shows via Sky and SkyGo.
Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain, director Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn, Teen Wolf and BattlestarGalactica are just some of the shows that will be lurking around The Zone during the course of the day.
As part of its promotional push for the channel, Sky has launched a campaign that has seen The Zone's logo and eerie branding appear across various channels over the last few weeks (Brandspank created The Zone brand identity, DDB did all the creative for the external launch campaign and OMD served as the media agency).
"Our strategy for launch has been to build awareness around the impending channel across October with outdoor, cinema, and digital activity along with an association as naming rights sponsor of the Armageddon Expo which has been an incredible way to connect with core fans," says Sky's director of corporate comms Kirsty Way.
To get fan boys and girls excited about the shows that are scheduled to feature on the Zone, Sky arranged for the three stars—Eiza Gonzalez, D.J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz—of From Dusk till Dawn to visit New Zealand for a talent tour, during which they participated in magazine fashion shoots, radio interviews, filmed interviews and entertainment news stories (The Zone also took over the NZ Herald and Armageddon homepages in anticipation of the launch).
"All publicity [was] planned and implemented in-house and we maximised all the opportunities that working with this genre gave us," says Way.
At the crux of the promotional activities was The Zone's sponsorship with the Armageddon event, which serves as an annual meeting point for those interested in the genres featuring on the new channel.
"Sky’s new channel The Zone and entertainment expo Armageddon is a match made in heaven – like Kirk to the Enterprise, Spike to Buffy or Dean to his Impala – it just makes sense for the two to merge and expand the experience for local fans of science fiction, cult, fantasy, horror and superhero genres,” said Sky’s head of general entertainment Karen Bieleski when announcing the deal.
Armageddon Expo owner Bill Geradts was similarly enthused about the partnership with Sky’s The Zone, and called it the missing link for the event.
“When these stars attend Armageddon Expo, it stimulates a huge wave of interest from fans and media, in some cases for shows that haven’t been on-air on New Zealand television for years," said Geradts. "Now SKY can fulfill that demand but also help in attracting new fans to the genre and bigger stars to come to New Zealand in future.”
During the event held on 26 and 27 Ocotber, The Zone arranged photo shoots with costumed characters and handed out a range of promotional material to fans.
"We tried to keep away from promotional material that would be thrown away," says Way, "so we designed a set of cushions that would represent the different genres playing on the channel, the designs were done by a local tattoo artist. We also did badge sets, rocket pens and explored lenticular printing for our notebooks."
And according to Way, the promotions aren't going to end with the launch of the channel.
"We’ll be continuing activity in the market to drive engagement with cinema and bus backs to position The Zone as the new destination for all things sci-fi, fantasty, horror and cult, along with billboards and street posters to promote our premiere content including From Dusk Till Dawn the series, Defiance, Helix and The Strain. We’ve [also] given away an exclusive experience to have brunch with Richard Dean Anderson and the cast of Stargate SG-1 to three lucky viewers."
The introduction of The Zone comes at a good time for these genres that were previously considered very niche. Vampires, werewolves and superheroes have enjoyed high popularity levels in recent years, and it doesn't seem to be slowing down. And in addition to driving overall audience numbers, this has also led to an increase in the proportion of female viewers.
This trend has seen the proportion females attending the New York edition of Comicon increase by 62 percent in the last three years, shifting the number from 33,600 in 2010 to 54,500 in 2013. And while men still outnumber women at the event, it shows that the content being produced today has the ability to attract a bigger and more diverse audience.
Since 2011, a small Facebook group has called on Sky to bring the Syfy channel to New Zealand. And while Sky hasn't exactly done this, the introduction of The Zone will undoubtedly leave fans of fantasy sub-genres satisfied.