Blog Post

BBC, Tiny Rebel Games Offer an Adventure Through Time and Space to Entice New Fans to the “Doctor Who” Brand

By Charles Hayward

As the longest-running science fiction show in the history of television, Britain’s “Doctor Who” has constantly had to reinvent itself to stay relevant. In more recent iterations of the show’s 769-plus episode run, Who producer Steven Moffat has tried to tell complex stories about the morality of war -- a topic that is more pertinent today than ever -- and the dangers of being constantly connected to the web.

Like most modern TV programs, Who has had to change to keep up with a world that is increasingly turning away from the TV to get its media fix. As of Q2 2014, overall TV viewership was down 11.7% year-over-year. That statistic continues a trend that defines the “Cord Cutter” generation, so called because of the move en masse away from media that’s tied to a cable cord. Doctor Who has done relatively well when compared to other shows; the long-running program’s Season 8 finale aired to 5.45 million viewers on its November 8 premiere date.

What’s most telling is that the time-traveling alien’s final adventure for the year pulled in another 2.15 million viewers who later watched a recorded version of the episode, whether online or through the On Demand functionality of their cable boxes. Thinking to take advantage of growing web viewership, the BBC began offering full episodes of the series through its iPlayer web-viewing platform two seasons back. The results speak for themselves.

BBC Regenerates Who with Big Mobile Campaign
Where the BBC has really found a wealth of fresh success is in its recent expansion into the world of mobile gaming. Digital streaming is slowly leaching the life out of television, but mobile gaming is terminating traditional gaming at a much faster pace. Current estimates hold that revenue for the mobile gaming industry will double by 2017.

Pairing with Tiny Rebel Games in 2013, the BBC found its way into the growing market in a big way. “Doctor Who: Legacy,” a story-driven puzzle game, was released in early 2013, and since then, the game has been downloaded and played by almost a million people. The secret to the game’s success? Lee Cummings, the Cardiff-born co-founder of Tiny Rebel Games, chalks it up to a number of things.

In an interview with indie gaming site Geek Party, Cummings said that the lack of a paywall has paid dividends. “We don’t try to coerce [players] with paywalls, energy meters, and other baggage of typical free-to-play game design…they understand that when they spend money on our game, it means we can afford to put money into new content.” The approach thus far has been “very successful,” according to Cummings, though actual data on the game’s revenue is not yet available.

Not trapping players behind a paywall and not making them feel as though they’re forced to pay has, unsurprisingly, bolstered Legacy’s popularity. The most important piece in the puzzle, though -- and I truly hate to use such a trite word -- is synergy. Tiny Rebel Games and the BBC work very closely to ensure they’re providing customers something they want through the game, driving fans to the Doctor Who TV show in the process. In other words, the partners recognize that “content is king,” regardless of what form it takes.

The idea of using one piece of content to drive traffic and interest for another isn’t exactly a new concept. Content marketers use social media posts, for instance, to generate interest for their blog posts, videos, and other web content. Content synergy might as well be taught in Content Marketing 101.

Blizzard Entertainment, developer of the insanely popular “World of Warcraft” (WoW) game phenomenon, launched “Hearthstone” in 2013, largely to help generate new interest in its dying game. In March 2014, when subscriptions to WoW were at the lowest they’d been since Q3 2006, Blizzard released an exclusive mount, an in-game vehicle of sorts, for Hearthstone players that could be used in World of Warcraft. The move is said to be one of the many reasons why WoW again has more than 10 million subscribers.

Doctor Who hasn't had to deal with WoW's crisis of faith. In fact, under the tenure of Matt Smith, the actor who filled the shoes of the madman with a box from 2010 to 2013, Who became more popular than ever. It was during this record run that Doctor Who: Legacy found its footing, and it’s this momentum that has turned the game into such a powerful marketing tool for the BBC’s hottest series.

After every new episode of the eighth season of the new Who, Tiny Rebel released a new character or mission to Legacy players, free of charge. Typically, the new content allowed players to enjoy the stories they just witnessed in their favorite TV show, but from the perspective of their favorite characters. This ability to transport players inside the immortal series week after week had the effect of generating new viewers for the TV series from the game’s player base, while simultaneously pulling more Whovians, who have thus far only watched the show, into the game. It’s a lesson on the power of synergy in content marketing that we can all take notes on, whether that content is a video game, a television show, or a blog post.