Last week, I summarized some of the statistics in the current social TV landscape that show this trend is alive and well and making a measurable impact. However, as someone recently said to me, the phenomenon is a little like sex in high school – everyone’s talking about it, some people are doing it, but no one is really doing it as well they could. And, I would add, many are not necessarily thinking about their partner in this – the audience. So this week, I have spent many hours being that audience. I used all the apps I could and read reveiws and watched videos for many I could not. Next week I will go into more depth about what I think is working and what isn’t from a digital marketing and audience perspective, but in this issue of From Search to Screen I put together a kind of inventory of some of the ways mobile apps are helping to find, share and expand TV content through “push,” “pull” or “conversational” functionality.
Apps that “Push”
I began my journey into social TV app land looking at the kinds of content and functionality these mobile apps “push” to the consumer with no expected response. These included:
- “Bite-sized” companion content such as news, blogs, behind-the-scenes videos & images, background/history of the show, episode guides, cast & characters, wallpapers, and ringtones. These are all examples of the kind content websites for specific television shows have provided for years. However, this time it is delivered through a tablet or smartphone. Sometimes this content is exclusive for app users and can include things like preview clips and images as in the CBS Fall Preview app. At its most cutting-edge it is delivered synchronous to watching the show with “pop up video” like content being triggered by inaudible cues as an episode unfolds. Show-specific examples of this include Grey’s Anatomy and Weeds. Beyond the networks, Umami and IntoNow are both new social TV apps with audio detection which provide rich supplemental content.
- Full episodes are also being pushed out to viewers through apps like HBO Go and Bravo Now or for sports programming through apps from channels like TSN. But when used like this the mobile app is not so much providing a second screen experience as replacing the first screen with a more portable format. These apps also offer much of the other types of content discussed throughout this post.
- Programming guides put into a customized and/or socialized context are another common social TV application. The classic TV Guide now comes in this format, as well as new kids on the block such as I.TV and Yap.TV.
- Alerts and recommendations sometimes supplement the guide content above as an opt-in addition. Recommendations based on viewing behaviour and other social cues can be pushed to viewers as IntoNow does. A very common feature are alerts sent as a favorite show is about to air in your area (as with I.TV or the Covert Affairs Mobile Fan Club) or apps can provide simply a countdown to when the next episode airs as with Bones.
Apps with “Pull”
Secondly, I looked at content and functionality that “pulled” input from the consumer to the mobile apps but did not require further dialogue once they were set in motion. These included:
- Browse and/or search are fairly standard for apps that are not just for a single show. This functionality is critical for finding what you are looking for or potentially discovering something new. It is definitely something users expect in this content saturated world. Apps with large content databases such as guides like IMDb or network apps like AMC Mobile include search as a matter of fact. Some apps also allow specialized browsing by topic or genre like the Nat Geo TV and Yap.TV apps.
- Social check-in functionality is like Foursquare but for television programming, where you can “check-in” to whatever show you are watching and become part of a conversation around it or just lurk. As more people use these kinds of apps there is more value in the social data being generated and this is being factored into new “social” TV ratings. Some of the most popular TV check-in apps include Get Glue and Miso.
- Supplemental “bite-sized” interactive content is often a part of the companion push content mentioned above. This can include quizzes and polls like those for Grey’s Anatomy and the Discovery Channel as well as simple casual games like those offered by the apps for Mythbusters, Bones, and Glee.
- Social voting is also facilitated by almost every social TV app, so I won’t go into specifics here. Whether it’s Facebook “likes” and “shares” or Twitter “tweets” or in-app sharing and favouriting (when did that become a verb), this is all part of the vital new television audience data contributed by app users and ultimately the cost of admission for all the free value added content viewers get. An interesting variation on this comes from a Dutch developer, called YEL or Your Emotion Live that allows users to share a variety of emotional responses to TV broadcasts.
Apps for Social Conversation
Of course, the real power of social TV and the second screen is in the possibilities of both push and pull happening together and resulting in a real conversation with the audience. Examples of this kind of content and functionality include:
- Live conversation is possible with social media technology. Whether it is fan discussion forums (like Terra Nova) or live in-app chats (like Yap.TV) or Twitter and Facebook conversations specific to TV shows, this to me is one the features with the most potential longevity (more on this next week). Examples include Glee and Being Erica characters tweeting about their lives, reality show hosts like Jeff Probst and Phil Keoghan tweeting during broadcasts of Survivor and The Amazing Race respectively, and of course all the hashtag supported spontaneous community conversation that happens around every show. But perhaps the best leveraging of Twitter to date was by MTV during the VMA Awards. The MTV Twitter Tracker app not only showed where celebrities were sitting in the audience and what they were tweeting, but also allowed photos and Twitter conversations around the event to be shared live. If you were a celeb at the VMAs and not tweeting you missed a huge promotional opportunity.
- Additional interactive story that engages the audience through social and mobile media is an exciting new social TV app development. This form of transmedia storytelling is not applicable to every show, but some have used it well. While the in-character tweeting and conversations above definitely qualify, more sophisticated examples of this form include Homeland’s Watch Carefully app, Psych’s #Hashtag Killer, and Covert Affairs’ Mission: Budapest.
- Gamification of viewing has also happened where viewers can actively earn/win points, badges, stickers, and other value added prizes through their social and mobile engagement. This is especially true of the check-in apps above, but even specific shows have found ways to gamify their audience’s experience with such apps as Psych Vision where Club Psych members can earn points to unlock exclusive content and potentially win merchandise.
- Shopping is the kind of functionality that gets everyone buzzing. This is a way to create a direct revenue stream from an app even if the app itself is free. How does this work? Well, two very interesting recent examples come from the shows Sons of Anarchy and Covert Affairs. The Sons of Anarchy SOA Gear app launched at the beginning of this month to sell biker gear to its audience. While fans watch the show on TV, products are displayed in sync on their iPads for instant purchase. The Covert Affairs shopping experience happens in partnership with Shazam (the music recognition app). Cues are given during the broadcast to Shazam allowing viewers to not only unlock exclusive additional content, but also get the chance to buy fashion brands and fan gear with a push of a button.
- Play along technology is another new development in the social TV field, which appears to have started in Europe. These apps allow viewers to actively vote or rate during the broadcast of reality shows or compete directly against onscreen TV competitors during game shows. Examples of this include Endemol’s Money Drop game show, Germany’s Next Top Model, and the original The Voice from Holland. It seems that all the developers of these platforms are actively working with American broadcasters so I am sure we will see some of this play along functionality rollout more broadly.
What Lies Ahead?
As you can see, there are a lot of interesting things happening for the audience in the social TV space. As I mentioned last week, every day I am reading about new developments and apps being launched. This article didn’t even touch on connected or smart TV applications and the BBC just announced an app in the works that will allow viewers to control their TVs. Is it too much? Viewers can’t use every single app, and broadcasters and content creators can’t invest in every possibility. Next week, I will go through my analysis of what I experienced this week and make some small recommendations about how I think broadcasters, advertisers and creators can maximize their investment in this space.
Do you have any other ideas, questions, resources, tips or insight about the social TV phenomenon? Please post below or send via email to annelise(at)veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
Or revisit the previous issue: Social TV Apps – Pt.1: The Current Landscape