Writing for Forbes.com at the end of June (and escaping my attention until know), Merrill Barr postulates that Nickelodeon were wrong to alter their marketing plan for Book 3 of Legend of Korra after the Mexican arm of the network inadvertently let a few episodes from the season get loose on the internet, and are beholden to internet ‘pirates’ as a result. I say that’s poppycock.
Like previous seasons, Nickelodeon had been mum about details of when the next one would premiere and what form it would take. All that changed however, when it emerged that their Mexican arm had accidentally allowed three mid-season episodes to appear on their website. Needless to say they were spotted almost instantly and despite being in Spanish, were quickly devoured (and translated) by fans.
After being pulled down (obviously,) Nickelodeon quickly released an official trailer (in English) and subsequently announced that the new season would premier on June 27th with episodes being broadcast regularly thereafter on Friday nights. Quite a startling move and an extremely rapid one for a traditional network to boot.
Why That Was Supposedly a Bad Move
The actions of the network in the wake of such events is certainly surprising, especially since there was little need to appease fans so quickly or indeed at all. However in Barr lamesnts the network’s actions and the precedent it creates for different reasons:
As far as precedent’s concerned, is this the kind of message Nickelodeon – or any network for that matter – should be sending? “Steal our stuff, spread it like crazy and we’ll just give you what you want,” that’s what Nickelodeon has said with its drastic shift in premiere date.
Yes, he is insinuating that since fans took the episodes that leaked and ran with them, Nickeloedon somehow caved to their demands and moved up their release date and, horror of horrors, conceded that the filthy, dirty pirates had held them to ransom and won.
For some reason, all that is an allegedly terrible move, dreadful even. But it’s totally incorrect. Nickeloedon absolutely did the right thing and they did so for all the right reasons too. No piracy involved!
Why Nickelodeon’s Actions Were 100% Correct
The first thing to keep in mind while we analyse everything is that you have to approach it from the standpoint of the network. Actions that seem weird or even confusing to outsiders can have real and logical explanations when considered from the network’s perspective on the situation.
Starting at the beginning with the leak. Yes, it was unfortunate. It shouldn’t have happened but guess what, everyone makes mistakes! It was unintentional! An oopsie daisy if you so will. Is it the end of the world? No! Are the episodes lost forever into the fathoms of the internet? Again, no! They slipped out and nothing more. They can still be broadcast as if the leak never even happened. That’s the first and most important aspect. It is not like someone surreptitiously copied an incomplete episode and threw them up online for all to see it in its rough, unfinished form. They don’t imbue the audience and fans with a false sense of anticipation because they’re exactly what the audience would have seen anyway. So anyone who watched the episodes hasn’t gained anything at all.
Secondly, there is the marketing plan the network had been preparing for the show:
In fear of losing control over a situation it had contained, the children’s network completely scrapped its SDCC based marketing campaign to just run the season as is.
There’s no source for that in Barr’s article (hmmm), and indeed, has been debunked with the announcement yesterday of the show’s panel at the convention. Barr compares Nick’s actions to those of Marvel and Lucasfilm; studios who stick to their original plan even in the face of leaks even more explicit and damaging than what Korra has undergone.
To that I say “so what?” Those companies can handle such incidents as they please, but they also tend to create features, and therein lies the difference. See, Nickelodeon has complete control over its distribution channels (at least in countries where the show isn’t licensed) and can alter the schedule at will. Studios that release features don’t have any direct control thanks to anti-trust litigation back in the 1940s. They can only hope that cinemas will screen their films, and indeed, only when they’re scheduled to do so. In that sense, of course Marvel and Lucasfilm will stick to the original plan; they have no choice!
Lastly, there is the piracy argument and whether Nickelodeon’s actions pander to those who engage with it.
“Steal our stuff, spread it like crazy and we’ll just give you what you want,”
Did fans steal the content? No, it was published on a legitimate site in a manner that it would have been otherwise. No fan stole the content any more than they were responsible for the leak in the first place.
Did they spread it around afterwards? Sure they did, what else were they going to do with it? That old saying that any publicity is good publicity rings true, once fans learned that episode were leaked, they rushed to their favoured haunts like flies on a 5#!t and began talking and debating the new season with a feverishness that you cannot buy with marketing. (Another reason Nick could afford to nix any marketing they had planned; it would have done no good and saving the budget for other uses is always wise.)
The last point is the one I take most umbrage with. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the complaint that fans would want to see the series and see it as soon as possible and that that’s somehow a bad thing. They already know the series exists, they even know its completely finished! It’s done; all but an unrecouped cost sitting on Viacom’s ledgers. The anticipation is already created, the majority of fans who want to watch the show will do so, and since the network now commands their attention, it is very much a case of striking while the iron is hot.
Get those episodes out the door, low ratings be damned; advertising rates are already contractually decided and your merchandise supply chain and sales are quiet. Letting the episodes gather dust for a couple of weeks for the sake of ‘piracy’ and ‘the plan’ is, quite frankly, pitiful when you’re running a business that absolutely depends on people viewing your content, and especially so when that content is fresh.
Although it certainly wasn’t planned for, Nickelodeon reacted absolutely correctly to the early release of the Book 3 episodes of Legend of Korra. They realised the error, analysed where they stood, contemplated the possibilities, and took swift and decisive action. There was no floundering, no finger-pointing, no blaming and most importantly, no actions that jeopardised the value of the content to fans. The show is now being broadcast and everyone is happy on all sides. That’s what matters at the end of the day.