Viewers were touched last week by Kiefer Sutherland's new drama — but will viewers return on March 19 for the encore? Fox execs admit their launch strategy for Touch is a bit of a gamble, but they've been here before.
The Touch roll-out is similar to how Fox debuted Glee in 2009 — airing a sneak preview behind American Idol before waiting several months for a fall launch. (The gap between preview and premiere for Touch will not be nearly as long as the four-month gap for Glee.) Fox also struck gold this fall by offering sneak previews of New Girl on multiple online platforms several weeks before the show's proper launch.
In both cases, the early preview helped drive word-of-mouth to the show's actual launch. The Glee stunt in May 2009 generated so-so numbers and was considered a bit of a bust — until the musical series debuted like a lion later that year. Fox has been waiting to find another show to carry out a similar plan — and had originally announced plans to do the same thing with Terra Nova in May 2011, but that dino drama couldn't be readied in time.
Now, Fox is hoping to strike again with Touch. Sutherland and his team are already off to a good start, premiering on Jan. 25 with 12 million viewers and a 3.9 rating among adults 18-49 (granted, against a repeat episode of Modern Family on ABC), making it Fox's highest-rated drama opening in three years. "We now have seven weeks to get those people to talk to other people and get them to tune in," says Fox marketing president Joe Earley. "You want people to share it, talk about it and get others to watch."
Earley agrees that the preview was "risky," and "there were concerns all the way around on the network side and the studio about doing this. But once the decision was made we had a singular focus in making it work. And our marketing and publicity teams worked hard to make every penny go further."
For example, Fox had to split Touch's marketing budget between the show's two bows. "We didn't get to use our launch budget against the preview," he says. "But this is how you do it when you have a show like this." But in pitching Touch to potential audiences, Fox execs knew they were dealing with a show that's tough to describe. (In the show, Sutherland is the father of a mute child with a mysterious gift to find the connections between world events.) The preview was meant to help explain the show to audiences.
Plus, even though there's no room at the moment for a permanent timeslot for Touch, Fox wanted to take advantage of the network's huge NFL playoff audience (which attracted a whopping 57.7 million viewers — not a bad marketing platform) and the typical early interest in American Idol. "Football is why it aired when it aired," Earley said. "You wouldn't normally choose to air a preview seven or eight weeks out. But we knew we were going to have a good game, with very broad appeal." March is alsoa difficult month to launch new shows, given Daylight Saving Time and viewer fatigue, so execs figured an early preview couldn't hurt.
Fox also had a not-so-secret weapon: Sutherland. "He has been behind this show every single step of the way," Earley says. "The power of Kiefer Sutherland is palpable and he makes himself available. There's nothing he wouldn't do for the show."
Like Glee and New Girl, Fox will now set out to capitalize on the early word of mouth and get the show in front of viewers who haven't seen it yet. The show's first episode will be available for the next few weeks at fox.com and on video on demand — but Fox will pull those previews in the days leading up to the show's actual launch in order to stoke interest in the return. "We'll basically create a little more hunger for it again, and then it will come back," Earley says.
Even if Fox had wanted to bring back Touch early, it couldn't have. The network's schedule is completely full (with Alcatraz doing quite well on Monday nights). Plus, Fox has engineered a unique worldwide premiere of the show on March 19, with Unilever as a global sponsor. Earley says he's ready: "All indications are people liked what they saw."