And so the Beeb hit on a unique solution.
At the conclusion of the episode “The Tenth Planet,” Hartnell’s Doctor collapses suddenly, begins to glow and then transforms into an entirely new version of his character (played by Patrick Troughton). This new Doctor was the same man, possessing the same memories, yet equipped with different personality traits.
This change, to be known as “regeneration,” became a regular event for the now-50-year-old TV series. There have been 10 regenerations across 11 actors, and each has come with a high level of audience anticipation. Indeed, the BBC took this to the highest level yet on Aug. 3, when it hosted a live broadcast—promoted heavily for a week—during which actor Peter Capaldi was announced as the replacement for Matt Smith as the Doctor.
Anticipation is one of the most effective tools for generating public interest and engagement. It’s why a new restaurant will talk up its menu long before the doors open, why we see “teaser” trailers for films still a year away, and why every new James Bond actor is revealed only after months of speculation. It’s hardly a new thing. (Who shot J.R., anyone? Or any product from Apple?)
Engagement is the key to leveraging that eagerness, and new communication tools make that easier to do. At the recent San Diego Comic-Con, it was announced that the next Superman film would be a Supes-Batman mashup; not only did that generate cheers at the event, but rumors have been burning the interwebs ever since. The filmmakers want that kind of buzz, in hopes that it will reach its crescendo just in time for the premiere in 2015.
Likewise, the way the BBC unveiled its new Doctor sated some of the expectation, only to kick off another round of it ahead of Capaldi’s first appearance this Christmas. Even more, the BBC ran Twitter posts throughout the program as fans urged that name to be announced and then celebrated once it was.
The lesson here: Making an event meaningful to the audience involves inviting them to be part of it. That includes feeding that anticipation, allowing them to fuel it further, and then actively engaging them during and beyond the event.