I’ve been seeing the term “social TV” a lot lately. This phrase describes the practice of using your computer, tablet or smartphone to connect with your friends (perhaps through social media like Twitter) or to access interactive/community enhancements while watching a live television program. Statistics show this use of a second screen (or even third) during TV viewing happens half the time. The older audience is checking email, but the younger demographic (18-24) are interacting and chatting with their friends about the content they are watching. Some futurists see this as the saviour of traditional TV programming where people will once more gather to watch shows at the scheduled time of broadcast in order to share or enhance their viewing (advertising included), instead of watching pre-recorded shows and jumping over all the commercials. Others see social TV as nothing but distraction media, another multi-tasking, disruptive element in our already busy and over stimulated lives. How has social TV evolved? How will it change how screen media producers think about and plan their content? And what are the online marketing opportunities coming from this phenomenon? Here are my thoughts.
I grew up at a time when my family would sit down to watch certain shows together weekly (Carol Burnett, Sunday night Disney, Donny & Marie). These “appointments” were part of a regular routine that lasted well into my teens and was a television viewing pattern typical of most households. It was easy for broadcasters and producers to control and develop content for these captive audiences who were unlikely to walk across the room to change the channel. And the cost of programming was easily paid for by the 15-16 minutes of commercials we all had to sit through every hour.
The Remote Shift in Control
Do you remember when the remote control started to erode that broadcaster power? With the ability to easily change channels from the couch came changes to content like small cliffhangers and teasers before the commercial breaks to lure us back and recaps to remind us of anything we may have forgotten or missed while we flipped away (taking away even more time from the “story” of every show). VCR’s gave us the ability to record and watch shows whenever we wanted to and fast forward through commercials, which DVR’s amped up even further. The explosion of channels and programming meant we could pick and choose content like never before. Critics bemoaned our rapidly shortening attention spans and the eroded quality of television programming which they felt was spread too thin and the always increasing cable TV fees.
And then came the Internet, which evolved into a medium with enough broadband and speed to stream quality video; and YouTube where anyone can broadcast their own video content; and the writer’s strike during the 2007/2008 television season which drove a lot of very talented people to the web to create high quality content and web series. The TV audience started noticing and drifting towards this new shiny object.
And traditional broadcasters started quaking in their boots.
The “New” Social
Collectively, our society is a pretty distracted, fickle bunch. It’s hard to get and then hold our attention. But we are essentially social animals and get great pleasure in connecting and sharing with our friends, whether it is information or experiences (as the rapid growth of social media like Facebook and Twitter attests). Even back in the days of “appointment television,” sharing with my family alone was not enough for my very social teenage sister. She would call her friends to watch shows with them simultaneously, causing seemingly unending busy signals in the evenings for other frustrated callers. Today we have the cellphone to take this to the next level.
Of the rapidly growing smartphone market, recent statistics show younger users (13-24) owning almost 25% of these devices. I’m sure we all have that young girl in our lives who seems to have her cell surgically attached. She takes it with her everywhere and texts, browses, chats, views. It is definitely in the room when she’s watching TV. And as those first stats reveal, she’s not the only one. There is a “social” conversation going on for every show on television as it always has, whether it is simultaneous with a scheduled broadcast or not. What is “new” is that broadcasters and producers can now actively be a part of that conversation. And those who participate and craft engaging content and experiences for their audience in this space will be more likely to be heard above the noise of our media saturated world.
“The Voice” of the Future
I recently watched “The Voice” on NBC. For those of you who didn’t catch it, it is a singing competition (a la “American Idol”) with a panel of celebrity coaches (instead of judges) who each lead a team of singers they initially selected in a blind audition, through a public vote where the winner is selected as “The Voice.” I haven’t watched “American Idol” in years, but I watched “The Voice.” Not only did I appreciate the less judgemental tone and the high level of talent in the atypical TV competitors, but I was completely intrigued by the omnipresent social media component to the show. Not only did they have a behind-the-scenes “social media room” where people could ask questions of contestants via Twitter, but the #thevoice hashtag let me watch and participate in a live conversation before, during and after the broadcast (in fact, it’s still going on). Moderated tweets also ran across the bottom of the screen offering another level of story (like an internal monologue) to what the audience saw on the screen whether they were on Twitter or not. The show would also immediately upload songs from the show to iTunes where people could vote with their wallets by downloading their favourites, and capturing the top of the iTunes charts on many occasions.
This kind of social engagement worked brilliantly for “The Voice” and the show was quickly renewed for a second season. The same tactics would not work for every show, but the team behind this campaign showed a real understanding of its audience (which includes my young friend above) and their desire to be involved. This was an empowered audience who wanted to have their own “voice.” The unmoderated feed on Twitter was almost like a secondary storyline of its own, with some very passionate characters. While I don’t believe you can count “social TV” as true transmedia, it is a part of this new landscape that demands more of screen media creators simply because the story goes WAY beyond the first screen.
Social TV Marketing
I’ve already written in a general way about some of the Internet marketing challenges and opportunities for a TV series. But specifically, what does “social TV” mean for broadcasters and producers in terms of promotion of their projects online?
- Broadcast series television does something better than any other screen media – scheduled, recurring events. This is a huge asset when it comes to social media marketing because of the way momentum can be built up over time with regular, consistent touchpoints during its weekly broadcast.
- The second screen is another opportunity for enriched interaction and, yes, advertising. Social media apps for smartphones and tablets to be used synchronous to broadcast are a chance for immediate engagement and even additional advertising if they add real value to the viewing experience.
- The second screen also offers broadcasters a chance to potentially attract new viewers if their social apps for specific shows are “cool” enough or the social media conversation is interesting enough.
- People are actively looking for shows and experiences in which they can actively participate in as an audience member. Search market/keyword research can help you find and connect with this interested social media audience through the use of the right language. (Pssst – stay tuned for the release of my transmedia keyword research document next month; it will also include social TV data.)
- Like all marketing, effective social TV marketing will require strategy, a well laid foundation and strong social media presence (which can start as early as development). Make sure you have a formal plan and that you have optimized your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and other social media accounts for search and social opportunities.
- There are already some great new social TV tools and resources. Make use of some of these:
Do you have any other questions, resources, tips or insight into social TV? Please send them via email to annelise(at)veria.ca or Twitter @veriatweet
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