How ‘Serial’ got the Internet excited about its second season release

“Serial” unexpectedly dropped its second season this morning.

Unlike last year’s, which focused on the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee and quickly entered the American zeitgeist, the producers took a Beyoncé approach. Besides planting stories with The New York Times and the New Yorker, the “Serial” team likely realized that fans’ pent-up excitement for a new season was enough to get people to download it.

As confirmed by Maxim — of all places — in September, this season examines the 2009 desertion of American soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who left his post in Afghanistan and was held by the Taliban for five years before being released in exchange for five prisoners from Guantánamo Bay.

Once again, the soothing voice of host Sarah Koenig returns with the assistance of filmmaker Mark Boal, who’s producing a movie about Bergdahl. The ghoulish theme song from Season 1, however, has been replaced with a different version.

Besides the story and theme song, what’s changed and what hasn’t? Let’s review:

Ads. Yep, MailChimp (Mail…Kimp?) is back as the sponsor with the same ad. Website builder Squarespace returns too, happily proclaiming itself as a “long-time podcast” sponsor, a nod to the renaissance podcasts are having, thanks to the popularity of “Serial.”

On the Pandora version, the upcoming big budget movie “In the Heart of the Sea” is the only sponsor. Director Rob Howard reads the 20-second spot, saying if listeners are fans of “exceptional storytelling” as heard on “Serial,” they’ll love his movie.

(Critics have panned the film, giving it a 53 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Twitter. “Serial” is getting a lot of attention on Twitter. There’s a Moment titled “This is not a drill: Serial Season 2 is here,” filled with jokes, tweets of joy from fans, and a link to the Times’ story. While a Moment reportedly costs $1 million, this type of expansive promotion is priceless for a podcast produced by a public radio station.

Today, there have been 4,000 tweets using #Serial, according to Topsy.

 

Facebook. Over there, “Serial” previewed the new season with an ad-free four minute snippet before pointing people to iTunes to download the full version. The post exposes the podcast to its 285,000 fans using a new tool slowly rolling out from Facebook to preview audio snippets called Music Stories.

“Facebook’s experiments with Serial are only a small part of the increased distribution that the podcast is aiming for this time around — symbolizing just how much Serial changed the podcasting industry in only a little more than a year,” writes Neiman Lab.

This smart and social-centric way of distribution has already catapulted “Serial” to first place in iTunes’ Top Charts category, just five hours after it was released.

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