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MediaWorks laughs in the face of danger - with online premiere

In defiance of the threat posed by digital to television, MediaWorks is taking a huge risk and premiering one of its top new shows online. As crazy and contradictory as this approach seems, when FOX did the same thing last year, it got some surprising results: despite over two million people watching the show before it was broadcast, it rated through the roof on the night, up 20 percent from its lead-in show Glee, way beyond the network's wildest dreams.

But not before giving the network's big brass heart palpitations, including Fox’s head of marketing Joe Earley. He admitted to DeadlineHollywood.com that the risky  stunt was only meant to raise awareness for the series, starring Glee's Zooey Deschanel, but that things got out of hand.

“The numbers started climbing and climbing at a much higher rate,” Earley said. “When we hit a million views, I started to become nervous; when we hit two million, I started to break out in a cold sweat!”

The expectation is that the online screening may bring down ratings for the initial pilot, but the series itself gets a boost from the numbers of people who see the online show, talk it up to their peers, and programme their DVRS to record the entire series.

MediaWorks' publicity manager Rachel Lorimer says if TV3 gets similar results this paradoxical platform premiere could be seen more often.

"There's plenty of press on the approach Fox took with New Girl. They had two million people watch the show before it's TV premiere, and the buzz created helped make it one of the biggest premieres of the season with over ten million viewers when episode one was broadcast."

"And from 2 February we're doing the same thing with double Golden Globe winner Homeland which launches on TV3 in mid Feb. It's a new thing for us - in the past we've put extended promos online, but never a complete first episode," says MediaWorks' publicity manager Rachel Lorimer, adding that putting a show as hot as New Girl on channel FOUR instead of the more mainstream TV3 shows the ongoing investment that's being made in FOUR.

"FOUR turns one on Waitangi weekend and after only a year, and now well outrates Prime, so is the biggest of the minor free-to-air channels."

The initiative is a first for the broadcasting company, which has a stable of television, radio and online assets, including a well-patronised ‘on demand’ catch-up television service. Director of programming, Kelly Martin, says that she’s looking forward to seeing how New Zealanders respond to the online previews for New Girl and Homeland.

“This is a first for us, and quite possibly a first for New Zealand television.  I’m genuinely curious to see how the audience reacts,” says Martin.

In fact TVNZ have tried this in the past, way back in July 2009 with Fringe, and in February 2010 with Flash Forward. But despite this, and its very successful comedy/drama "Auckland Daze" which is only available online, the state broadcaster has no further plans to trial this 'sneak peek premiere' approach with its other free-to-air TV shows.

To sample this multi screening, convergence, or 'platform promiscuity', as the BBC so endearingly call it, the online premieres of the entire first episode of New Girl will be available to watch at FOUR.co.nz/newgirl from 9am Friday 27 January. It will be available for a week. The TV premiere is 8pm, Tuesday February 7th on FOUR.

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