Stars Taps Machinima to Preview, Build Buzz for New Pirate Drama

/ Jan 13, 2014


Starz’s upcoming pirate drama, “Black Sails,” is set to debut on the premium cable channel on January 25. To build online buzz for the program, Starz has cut a deal with Machinima to screen the pilot episode, plus additional show content, on the online entertainment network for a full week before the show’s television debut.

Per the deal, Machinima will be the “exclusive non-affiliate YouTube partner” in the US for “Black Sails.” The first episode will be available on Machinima Prime, which currently has more than 1.38 million subscribers on YouTube, beginning January 18. Other “Black Sails” content to be available on the channel include a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes (here and here) and the show’s official trailer, as well as other custom content. Machinima says it plans to roll out additional “Black Sails” clips leading up to and after the premiere of the pilot on Machinima Prime.

“Black Sails” tells the adventures of a crew of pirates led by Captain Flint, played by Toby Stephens. The story is set 20 years prior to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel “Treasure Island.”

It’s becoming quite a common practice for premium cable programmers to use the web, especially YouTube, to market new original programming. HBO has released pilot and season premiere episodes of shows like “Girls” and “The Newsroom” on YouTube prior to their on-air premiere date. Showtime has done so as well, most recently with its critically acclaimed drama “Masters of Sex.”

However, in those cases, HBO and Showtime debuted these shows on their own YouTube channels. This is the first time, as far as I can tell, that a major TV programmer is enlisting a YouTube network to deliver a new, full episode of one of its TV shows. It makes sense, too. A show about pirates would probably be right at home with Machinima’s audience of gamers and fanboys. By introducing the show on the network, Machinima could help drive viewership for “Black Sails” as well as new subscriber numbers for Starz.

Both Machinima and Starz say as much in the announcement:

“Black Sails is a truly outstanding production that features a storyline that our audience will gravitate towards,” said Allen DeBevoise*, co-founder and CEO at Machinima. “This content partnership with our vast network will introduce the series to millions of loyal Machinima viewers and will help pave the way for future opportunities to partner with Starz.”

“Robust sampling maximizes potential exposure for a series, such as ‘Black Sails,’ that is a rich, yet widely accessible viewing experience,” added Nancy McGee, EVP of marketing for Starz. “Machinima offers Starz and ‘Black Sails’ a great online platform to engage new audiences in a challenging digital space and introduce content that is truly premium to a valuable audience and ultimately assist us driving subscription growth.”

It’s also important nothing that as Machinima continues to develop an OTT platform (which we’ve already talked about at length), a deal like this can only help to condition its audience to expect TV-length programming.

“Black Sails” is executive produced by Michael Bay and his Platinum Dunes partners Brad Fuller and Andrew Form. The show is created by showrunner and executive producer Jonathan Steinberg (“Human Target”) and co-executive producer Robert Levine (“Touch”). Starz has already agreed to a second season of the show, which is currently in production in Cape Town, South Africa.

* Allen DeBevoise is an investor in VideoInk.

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