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Find The Boots

Rantings from a few corporate types about life, technology, travel, guns, politics, and everything good in the world.

How Does CBS Respond?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

CBS may not be taking the "Save Jericho" phenomenon seriously yet, but they are at least treating it as a crisis. I guess losing your mail room to legumes can do that to you.

There was a great post over on CBS's Jericho message board.
Over the past few days it is clear that CBS is taking the following crisis communication steps and implememented a series of key messages for all its representatives, including those now answering the phones:

1. Filter out e-mails related to Jericho as junk mail. Out of sight, out of mind.

2. Change e-mailll addresses of key stakeholders within the organization, i.e., Nina Tassler and Kelly Kahl, in an effort to further slow the e-mail onslaught.

3. Downplay the number of calls/letters/e-mails received, both to Jericho fans and the media. This, they hope, will dampen the media interest by portraying the Jericho activists as a few crackpots who can't let go of a TV show, and chill the momentum of the fans who are calling in. What better way to get people to stop calling than to make the activists think the effort is failing?

4. They plan to deny/deny/deny the shipment of nuts going into CBS. They will downplay the number as "a few bags." Why? See Item 3.

The goal of this crisis communications effort is to slow, stall, and stop the fan campaign by discrediting the fans, downplaying the number/effect, and eventually hoping that the campaign will stall during the upcoming holiday weekend.

That was the first day. It didn't go so well. They've filtered the emails, but that just means they're losing contact with the movement. Getting people to stop calling just frees them up for other activities. Denying that the nuts had arrived didn't work out too well either -- videos of the shipments are plastered all over YouTube. Instead of actively engaging, they've chosen to withdraw and hope it blows over. Memorial Day Weekend is coming up and their best hope is to just wait it out.

Old Media thinking vs New Media tactics. Stonewalling doesn't work very well at th speed of the web. But we can see clearly that the movement is inside the decision cycle of CBS, so they're having a difficult time reacting to events.

They did take a few steps to try to diffuse things:

1) The first response was a post from Nina Tassler telling the fans that she was "humbled" by their devotion and that CBS would try to come up with a way to "provide closure for the series." That strategy was no doubt intended to take the steam out of the gathering storm. Perhaps they might have been able to fracture the fan base between people that would be satisfied with a made for TV movie and continuation of the series. Unfortunately for CBS, it backfired. The fans became even more adamant that they get an entire season two of Jericho.

2) They accepted delivery of the nuts. At least they got that right. Refusing them would have been a colossal PR blunder. They've even leaked to the fan community that they're going to send the nuts to homeless shelters and charities that support the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. So a bad situation gives them a little decent PR.

3) They started talking to the press. Local media outlets started picking up the story, and they all had a line in them around "CBS is meeting to figure out what to do." So at least they were taking THOSE phone calls about Jericho. It'll be hard for the press to get too hyped up if it's still "under discussion" back in the executive hallways.

CBS's damage control is now probably centered around keeping this story out of the mainstream media. So far, the "Save Jericho" movement has mobilized within a core group of dedicated fans, but they haven't expanded to a larger group. Once the story gets out of the fanzines and a few of the business blogs talking about this story, all is lost. They have to keep this to a brush fire. Expect continued communication with the press, very low key along the lines of "Yes, we see the fans are disappointed and we're trying to figure out how to please them."

I'm doubtful any of the major networks will run with the story. Professional courtesy and all that. No network exec wants to set the example of getting a revolution on their hands when they cancel a show, so they're not going to feed the fire just to spite CBS. It won't become news until there's some real news. The fans will have to build enough critical mass that they can pull off a major demonstration, or spend some real money on media buys.

There were 8 million viewers of the show -- so far only a small percentage of them are involved in the movement. The movement is in its early stages, so it's still the hardcore, internet savvy types that are pushing it. This small group has raised over $20K in funding for their various efforts, and there's probably only a few thousand of them involved. What happens if they get 500,000 fans on board? If they each put in $5, that's a bigger marketing budget to save the show than CBS spent promoting it.

There's no centralized decision making, yet the movement seems to be able to reach a consensus and take action fairly quickly. Think of the PR blitz you could put together with a few thousand employees fired up and really getting to it. That's the advantage the "Save Jericho" movement has. Their challenge is to break out of the circle of people they know and get to a wider world. But that's doable, so CBS better think about what happens if they're successful.

Go read Rich's Copywrite Ink blog, especially the article "Saving Jericho: Seven Solutions for CBS". Go ahead, I'll wait. He's got some great ideas about things CBS could do to avoid this. But I think most of those things are at best weeks and months out (reference my earlier posts about decision times). The real question is what can they do in the short term (other than just bring back the show)?

1) Put out a free e-book that tells the story of next season. It doesn't have to be written that well, it just needs to tell a story. They could even start posting it a chapter a week. They'll drive lots of traffic and it may limit the movement by placating the more casual fans. They'll look reasonable to the press, and the hardcore fans will be livid and will say silly things to the press that make them look like crackpots. The whole thing might just fizzle.

I doubt this would work. The hard core fans would refuse to read it, and it would just be another rallying cry. But it might stunt the growth of the movement enough to avoid disaster. It also ruins the franchise in case they want to sell it. Hard to tell, it's pretty risky.

2) Let the movement think it has won. Do a press conference, say how much you admire the fans and their dedication, and you're going to try very hard to put things back together for a run next January. But somehow, things just don't work out and the show goes away. They buy several months and the story just dies. That could stop the expansion of the movement right there. Again, they look completely reasonable and it cuts out the casual fans from joining. There will be some people that are seriously alienated, but most of those have already sworn off watching CBS anyway.

I hate to say it, but this one might work. It's risky because the story might get out. They could probably even get in trouble with the Screen Actors Guild or the SEC. But there are lots of variations on that strategy that just placate the fans enough to get them to disperse. And anyone who thinks that Corporate America can't be that Machiavellian hasn't worked in Corporate America.

3) Shut down the Jericho Message Board on CBS.com. The fans have already agreed on a rallying point, but enough people would be out of the communication loop that it would deal a serious blow to the community, from which they might not survive.

I'm surprised they haven't already done this. Unless of course, they're still entertaining thoughts of bringing back the show. Why keep the message board up? It's the unifying object for the entire movement. Certainly not for the ad revenue!

4) Order a few episodes that leave the story open and release them on a pay-per-view basis. If they can charge $5/download and they get 500,000 downloads in a week they've got a $2.5M budget to work with. Or get a better revenue stream out of their views from Innertube. Better yet, add a deal with Tivo to download content directly with pay per view like Amazon has done (or just run it through Amazon). If they only break even, they'll succeed in establishing a new business model for content delivery that they can milk in the future. They can look at the revenue from those episodes and see if it makes the case for further development.

I think #4 is their best possible move at this point. It would completely diffuse the "Save Jericho" movement. Their online viewer population would probably grow past the 500K they already had -- I never watched the show on Innertube, I used my Tivo but downloading it wouldn't have been a problem if that was the only way.

I've already gone on record and said that the smartest thing CBS could do would be to graciously accede to the fans demands and bring back the show. In that case, they should continue to play nice and perhaps nurture the movement a bit. The viral marketing effect will continue to spread, and they'll have a major hit on their hands next season. Or run a short season starting in January, filling in the time slot of whatever new show doesn't make it.

However this comes out, mark my words: Getting Jericho'd is going to become a term of art for having your customers revolt by making a very stupid move.

The flip side of a crisis is opportunity. Being able to recognize that is basic leadership. We'll find out a lot about CBS management by watching how they handle this crisis.

[Minor update: check out our proposed CBS executive theme song, above.]


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  • At 10:54 AM, Blogger Paula said…

    Thank you very much for your corporate point of view. I would not say that I am one of the more zealous fans revolting, but from the looks of your blog, I would probably be considered on that side! I cannot imagine that there is anyway that CBS could come out of this in a positive light other than renewing the show, even if only to the online crowd.

  • At 10:55 AM, Blogger Steve said…

    You're right: CBS does have a problem on its hands. Everyday, more fans find out the show has been canceled and then learn how little respect CBS has for its viewers. The public are sick to death of executives like Nina Tassler cancelling shows without regard to the hours viewers have invested. I quote:
    “If a low-rated serial drama doesn't get the chance to tell the end of its story that's just too bad.”
    Step down from the Ivory Tower lady! This fight is a fight for everyone who has ever had a great show canceled on them just so someone like you can buy a new Lexus!

  • At 11:06 AM, Blogger Donna said…

    Very nice and objective analysis. You are so very right about critical mass. If CBS figures it out before the pot boils over, they may yet come out OK. Better watch out for the full page ad in Variety next week...

  • At 11:57 AM, Blogger keith said…

    This was a nice analysis. I am humbled that you would use my strategy post.

    We believe CBS adjusted its strategy and has planted shills on the message board to sew confusion and dissension by posting negative comments or reporting that our efforts are failing.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. The movement is gaining steam as more media outlets report the story.

  • At 12:15 PM, Blogger fedrich519 said…

    Everything is going to change drastically this coming Tuesday.

    Pick up the print version of Variety and see.

  • At 2:40 PM, Blogger Rich said…

    Well said. I find it hard to buy into some of these ideas ... but I love the thought behind them (which is why tagged you today, ha!)

    Playing off my original post (thank you for the compliment), CBS could always jumble the order. They could move on the first season DVD and tell fans that the sales will determine whether to not there is a next season. Or, they could save the show for Joost, which I understand they have a vested interest in.

    As for the more risky ventures you've suggested (I think the e-book would make them even more mad), it's exactly what you said ... a roll of the dice. One thing is for certain though, if they continue to try to diffuse this issue, it's only going to get worse. As you said, it would be best to keep the fans happy ... because sooner or later ... no amount of appeasement (even bringing this show back) will make the fans happy.

    The fact that they bought an ad in Variety goes well beyond the average cancellation outcry. Great piece, again!


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