Oct 14, 2020

By Kelby Clark
Paramount Network’s Western drama breaks viewership records and entertains fans during the off-season.

Paramount Network’s Yellowstone finished its third season as the most watched cable entertainment program of 2020.

The show—which has garnered celebrity fans like Nelly, Jake Tapper, Carrie Underwood, and Mario Lopez—continues to set new viewership records each season. According to Nielsen, its season three finale drew 7.6 million total viewers—one million more viewers than any episode in the series’ history. It dominated the night on social media as well. On Facebook alone, the third season was No. 1 for views and engagements across cable and linear series programming. The series’ co-creator Taylor Sheridan, who signed an overall deal with ViacomCBS’ Entertainment & Youth Brands last February, said the realism is a big part of what makes the show so compelling for fans.

“People tune in to the show for varying reasons, but the authenticity of the show is its bedrock,” Sheridan told Deadline. “From the saddles that are used, from the kind of horses that we use, to the situations that I place them in that if you don’t spend your afternoons moving cattle, you don’t know those situations exist.”

The show follows the Montana-based Dutton family and its patriarch, Kevin Costner’s character John Dutton, as they struggle to protect their ranch from land developers, bankers, and Native American activists, among other threats. The scope and scale of production makes for a cinematic experience that ViacomCBS now plans to adapt for new, original scripted programming as part of a plan to rebrand Paramount Network as the Paramount Movie Network in 2021.

Creating An Authentic Fan Experience

The name change and shift in strategy means more blockbuster series with high-profile talent like Costner to draw viewers, as well as the possibility of having two episodes air back-to-back on premiere nights with limited commercials for future seasons.

The characters and the action of Yellowstone—which currently averages about 5-6 million viewers per episode in delayed viewing—is enhanced with movie-like special effects, musical score, and scriptwriting.

The series’ composer, Brian Tyler, blended his knowledge of traditional Native American music prevalent in Montana with the melting pot of western cultures for the score, and there is an entire workshop on set dedicated to manufacturing special effects for specific scenes with tools specialized to Hollywood.

 

For season three, the brand leaned into the new characters—many of whom became adversaries for the Duttons—to heighten the drama and action. The result was more twists and suspense than the previous two seasons.

“There were a lot of cliffhangers and dramatic reveals for season three, so across social, we really wanted to make our content in line with the network’s goal of having the show be appointment television,” says Breia Brissey, social media producer for the Entertainment & Youth Group shows social team. “Yellowstone is not just something you want to binge later. We want you with us watching here and now.”

Building Community Across All Platforms

Paramount Network’s social and digital team revamped their strategy between seasons two and three to make the accounts more fan-focused.

“Initially, our social presence was positioned as this omniscient cowboy who knew everything about the show,” says Breia. “We kind of pivoted from that to really make it so that our voice across platform’s is the voice of the show's number one fan and so naturally the go-to place for all things Yellowstone.”

The shift led to an increase in year-over-year engagement in the month's windowing season three (June and September) with 81M total views across platforms, +72% from 2019, and 2.5M engagements, +43% from 2019. When the show is on-air, the team leverages promos, behind-the-scenes footage, and trailers to build anticipation for each week’s episodes. In between seasons, they often tap into the loyalty of the show’s fan base by posting user-generated content, which in the past included an Instagram story about a newborn whose parents named him after the Duttons, #BeLikeBeth posts featuring fans mimicking the show’s character Beth Dutton, and pet-centric content.

 

“I read every single DM that we get,” says Brissey. “On Sunday nights within an hour of the show ending we're inundated with messages. It’s not only been a gold mine for us when it comes to user-generated content, but it lets people know that there are real people behind these accounts, and that we hear them and we see them. We’re listening.”

There’s also a focus on pegging posts to timely events like holidays including Christmas and Halloween—a time when multiple fans dress up as the characters—cast birthdays, regional and national initiatives such as the fight to end violence against Native American women. Additionally, there’s a balance of evergreen content such as key art and video compilations of scenes from each season, as well as original digital series Behind the Story and Stories from the Bunk House, which feature talent interviews and in-depth recaps of the episodes.

Yellowstone is so much more than the 10-week linear show,” says Brissey. “People are invested in the show, they're invested in the characters, and they're invested enough in the world to make it a part of their daily lives, regardless of whether we're in season or not. That's exciting to see.”

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