Bold Teen Drama Degrassi Gets Gamified for Summer Season

degrassi-titleCat fights, food fights, pregnant teens, prom nights gone awry, gay quarterbacks, alcohol addiction, drug addiction, rock bands formed by vindictive girlfriends, transgendered youth, cheerleading mishaps, school shootings, and the occasional egging of a teacher’s car: these things should be the makings of appointment television. Yet, despite the fact that Degrassi “goes there” the show’s co-producers at Canada’s Much Music recognize the need to entice viewers to watch it live, rather than recording it or downloading it illegally.

In conjunction with the start of Degrassi’s 12th season tonight, Bell Media-owned Much Music is continuing the gamification program it launched in June for its annual Much Music Awards. Armed with experience from that initial effort, the firm has fine-tuned the loyalty platform – dubbed MuchCloser – to prepare for the throngs of passionate Degrassi fans expected to check in during the live shows. When they do, they’ll get access to virtual badges available to live show viewers only.

Like other gamification programs, the idea is to encourage people to engage with the show by taking actions such as sharing on Facebook, reading blog posts, or commenting. Rewards come in the form of concert tickets, celebrity meetings, access to events, or recognition as privileged members of the online community. According to Trendrr data reported by AdAge, more than 81 million social TV conversations and interactions occurred in June, a 681 percent boost over June 2011.

Much Music has special access to the ever-morphing cast of Degrassi, named after a fictional high school in Toronto – or T.O. as the characters often refer to it. So, it’s able to shoot behind-the-scenes video on set and get exclusive footage of Degrassi’s stars. “We’re on the other side of the camera and we’re ready to interview them when the class ends,” said Mark Swierszcz, director of digital at Much Music.

degrassi-jimmybrooksThe best known Degrassi celeb, now known as hip hop artist Drake, played Jimmy Brooks, a promising basketball star whose hoop dreams were dashed by a bullet in the back. The shooter – a disturbed intellectual who abused his girlfriend -had just been doused in yellow paint and feathers, humiliated on stage after winning a trivia contest. And yes, Jimmy Brooks rapped on Degrassi, too.

Much Music, along with Degrassi production firm Epitome Pictures, worked with Badgeville to develop the MuchCloser features. Swierszcz stressed the appeal of Badgeville’s approach, which he said focuses on rewards psychology. “If you don’t do this properly, cultivate your users, and bring people back after they’ve left for three weeks…it’s useless,” he said.

And, because Badgeville works like a plugin, MuchCloser users stay on the site. “All rewards happen on our platform so we can monetize them and keep them in our world. We want people coming to our site engaging with Degrassi, not someone else’s.” The API approach also enables Much Music to incorporate data it has on user interactions on other platforms like Twitter, to get a more holistic view.

Swierszcz and his team conjured up scenarios for fan interactivity and rewards, and after launching for the Much Music Awards, 40,000 people have signed up. That’s about a third of Much Music’s registered user base, he said. But there were some kinks to work out.

“When we first launched we found that we did have super users…people who tried to be completist…so we were really focused on rebalancing that economy,” said Swierszcz. In other words, the value of certain actions had to be recalibrated to ensure overzealous fans don’t dominate. “So you don’t have a leaderboard that’s heavily weighted towards super nerds and super fans,” he added.

The Degrassi initiative is a “spring board,” and people can expect Much Music to roll out the platform for shows like “Pretty Little Liars” and “Gossip Girl,” too.

Only viewers in Canada can check in during live shows. Degrassi – a continuation of a decades-spanning series of similar shows that got their start as “The Kids of Degrassi Street” in 1979 – also airs in the U.S. on Teen Nick. “We’ve encouraged Epitome to communicate with Teen Nick about this,” said Swierszcz.

Related reading