Inside NBC's 'Million Second Quiz' Marketing Bonanza

Million Second Quiz Ryan Seacrest - P 2013

Million Second Quiz Ryan Seacrest - P 2013

NBC is pulling out all the stops for Million Second Quiz.

In a bid for ratings and buzz ahead of a new TV season, the network has showered an unprecedented amount of promotion on its Ryan Seacrest-hosted game show. The live interactive effort will feature contestants competing in trivia matches inside a massive outdoor hourglass structure in Manhattan, and its push will rely on the participation of each of NBCUniversal's divisions, from news and sports to theme parks and cable networks. The all-hands-on-deck strategy will begin Sunday, when the network turns to the considerable platform of NBC's Sunday Night Football to kick off the reality show. MSQ will then run nearly every night for two weeks. 

In addition to Seacrest, who will continue his personal outreach across his many platforms, including radio, TV and Twitter, NBC has teamed with talent from a collection of its shows, including Law & Order: SVU, to promote the new entry. There are also radio advertisements for Universal's Kick-Ass 2 featuring an MSQ tie-in, for instance, and an ad airing on USA Network's Royal Pains (see video below) turns into a trivia question for the game show. The news involvement will include local NBC affiliates surprising qualifying online players with a Publishers Clearing House-style knock at their door, complete with news cameras informing them that they're headed to play on national television. The players already in New York will keep abreast of current news and pop culture with monitors featuring content from all NBCU channels, which -- yes, you guessed it -- will likely be folded into the show in the form of questions.

STORY: Ryan Seacrest to Host NBC's 'Million Second Quiz'

"We're not asking for money, we're asking for time [from our audience], and if you want time, you have to be doing something different. One of the ways we stack the deck is by making it a very interactive show," NBC president of alternative and late-night programming Paul Telegdy tells The Hollywood Reporter of MSQ, which NBC Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt has been billing as an "event" (meaning DVR-proof) series that he hopes will draw viewers to watch live.

The goal of the competition, which runs over 11 days, 13 hours, 46 minutes and 40 seconds (or 1 million seconds), is to accumulate as much money as possible. Each match will see one player in the "money chair" as he or she attempts to accumulate as much time there as possible by correctly answering trivia questions against a competitor seated in an opposite chair. The latter will include people who simply show up at the hourglass or who successfully answer questions online or via the Million Second Quiz app.

The NBCU-wide push to get eyeballs to MSQ comes as each of the broadcast networks continue to search for the next big thing in the unscripted genre. Other than The Voice -- which has helped prop up NBC for two-plus years -- the nets have struggled to launch a new hit (NBC's Ready for Love and CBS' The Job were both pulled after each aired only two episodes). MSQ also will serve as an important promotional launchpad as NBC, ratings challenged for the better part of a decade, looks to promote its new 2013-14 lineup. The fall season will kick off officially Sept. 23 with The Voice -- four days after the trivia show's conclusion.

STORY: NBC Orders 24-Hour Live Competition Series 'Million Second Quiz'

To be sure, the synergistic approach has been employed before. The company mounted cross-network campaigns for The Voice and recent film Despicable Me 2, among other high-profile NBCU efforts. "The ability to harness the entire marketing power and creativity of our programming teams and marketers alike is very potent," Telegdy says of a philosophy NBCU CEO Steve Burke has dubbed "symphony." Adds Telegdy: "It's not just assets but human assets of combined forces of all parts of the company. We know it moves the dial, because whether it's box office or initial interest in a new TV show, we've made it work a few times. We're getting better at it and we're still learning." 

Thus far, the reality chief has been pleased with the pre-show buzz. Since the Million Second Quiz app launched Aug. 15, more than 10 million individual bouts have been played by the more than 550,000 people who have downloaded it. With each match running about 5 minutes, that amounts to about 50 million minutes -- or about 20,000 days of nonstop engagement with the game. "Those are big numbers," he notes, "and we're fascinated to see what it translates to in viewership."