Martin Delamere is Brand Strategy Director at Addiction
Martin spent ﬁve years as Network Creative Head at BSkyB. He is an expert in brand integration and how brands drive meaningful consumer relationships through deeper communications. Martin also sits on the IPA Behavioural Economics Task Force.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. ‘The internet’ was supposed to pillage television, arrive like a longboat of digital Vikings, smash up cherished broadcast business models, steal valuable content, and run off with the audience. Instead the arrival of the internet has turned out fine for the brands formerly known as broadcast. Lately the mythical battle between conventional TV and the internet has begun to look like a wedding with Google, Facebook and Twitter as its bridesmaids, dutifully holding the train for TV’s big day. They deliver a measurable echo of the mysterious viewer from the clicks and tweets from the second screen.
In fact, 2012 has been the year of Social TV. The wake of social activity trailing television’s big events and launches has rained social media records onto grateful broadcasters. The standout so far this year was the Superbowl, which generated 12.2 million social media comments, compared to 1.8 million the previous year. It was also the most watched TV broadcast in US history. The increase in social activity over the previous year is key. Nielsen claim that in the first quarter of this year 42% of tablet and smartphone owners visited social networking sites while sat in front of the TV set.
The broadcasters have been learning quickly, jumping on the success of social innovations. The invocations to play along, vote, comment and the like are now part of the basic grammar of event and sport television. Social and second screen viewing are integral to shows like MTV’s Video Music Awards and Movie Awards, which pioneered the Twitter tracker and showed which stars were the most talked about by means of real-time leaderboards and extra, behind-the-scenes raw camera feeds.
Last Sunday’s MTV Movie Awards pushed social TV innovations a step further: Twitter hashtag based voting for “Best Hero”, the addition of a Facebook tracker to the Twitter tracker, and, crucially, exclusive footage from the forthcoming The Dark Knight Rises all increased “shareability”.
In truth, it’s partly because sports and events television are so masterful at stretching their premium content that they’ve so elegantly created a space for the second screen.
In reality television, the rituals are designed to extend the reveal; the look-backs, previews, behind-the-scenes and waves of eliminations mean that viewer attention is ripe to be soaked up by a second screen without getting in the way of the actual performance. American football is the most extreme example in sport; a WSJ investigation found that in an average 174 minutes of broadcast, the ball was actually only in play for 11 minutes.
Social streams are a gift for the broadcasters: they let the audience do part of the work. A live supply of informed tweets is a far better source of material for a producer than a man of the match phone vote. The regular drumfills of social second screen activities help to keep these events sticky.
Broadcast brands are finding that these social innovations draw better viewing figures because audiences feel closer to the shows. And this social fuss looks very persuasive as we interpret it as social proof: the human behavioural tendency to interpret public evidence of other people’s behaviour as correct behaviour.
Broadcasters are able to leverage this digital engagement evidence with their advertising clients; they can make value claims not only about the size of their audiences but also the quality of attention they can deliver to advertisers. Real-time market intelligence companies like Trendrr.tv have arisen around this new extension to the television market. Trendrr.tv offers daily charts of TV shows’ social media engagement and evidence for these new commercial claims.
So how does this apply to drama? If producers and directors of quality drama thought that their audience’s attention was being distracted from their beautifully crafted close-ups, wouldn’t they regard this as self-defeating? Unlike sport and events, drama is supposed to be a linear journey of engagement. Well, digital activity and apps around drama launches are about facilitating new viewers’ understanding of the show, with character guides and background information. In established shows there is access to deeper material, extra interviews with characters or exclusive content, and buzz generated around plot developments and revelations.
“Executives will use this as evidence of deep viewer commitment despite modest audience figures”
Notable experiments with real-time Social TV for drama include the app launched for season 2 of The Walking Dead on FX in the UK. Fans could play along by predicting the hero Walker’s zombie kills, awarding them bragging rights across social networks with other fans. Thus pre-release buzz was whipped up around the novelty of the app whether it really got used in the end or not. Such ‘gamification’, as the jargon goes, risks reducing the drama, even Zombie genre drama, to a parody of itself.
Shows like Jersey Shore and Gossip Girl have apps that are grounded in their real world locations. Fans get to check out and check in to the bars and locations featured in the shows. Jersey Shore’s app also links up with FourSquare. Fox have had huge success with their social media strategy and Glee lends itself to this with the easy-to-share songs that are its core content. There’s an app that lets you do your own ‘Gleetastic’ karaoke of songs from the series and share them on all the usual social networks. Gleefully they declare: “Explore endless performances on the Globe and listen to singers from all over the world. Leave them helpful comments.” Indeed. Luckily, with friends like these, there is an autotune function.
The Twitter live stream for Newsnight and Question Time are legendary for their wit, wisdom, stupidity and venom as viewers take sides in real-time. And in fact, Question Time is often the most popular show on Twitter, regularly generating between 40,000 and 50,000 tweets per show and achieving the highly commended ‘trending’ status in the UK. As if to demonstrate that politics, too, is a spectator sport, there is an unofficial, live ‘Watch Along’ event for Question Time in London now, where participants are encouraged to enjoy a drink and a few tweets as they watch the show live on TV. The audience is free to shout at the two displays put up specially for the event: one screens the show, the other the live Twitter feed. This is broadcast slipping from social to real, in a shared public space, in a moment.
Executives at Question Time and the BBC will use this as evidence of the deep commitment of viewers despite modest audience figures. This is an unavoidable theme of Social TV; it really works for the hardcore fans, enabling the committed to geek out across all platforms. (For the broadcasters this intensity has a halo of creating buzz and interest that drives ratings.)
Broadcasters have long dreamed of this feedback loop with the viewer; phone-ins, top forty, goal of the month, viewers’ letters and studio discussions are all prototypes of Social TV.
“The success of these platforms will depend on how much reward viewers feel before they are pitched and pigeonholed as a source of cash”
To commercial broadcasters, ‘the return path’ or ‘back channel’ offers the hope to their clients – the advertisers – of capturing ad break attention and bridging the gap between ad and sale. To this end, a rush of new social media platforms has emerged recently: Miso, GetGlue and zeebox are hoping to be the sandwich-filler between broadcast levels of attention and making the sale. GetGlue has big time entertainment partners and applies the ‘check in’ and ‘share your taste with friends’ model to not only television but movies, books and music. GetGlue have a deal with DirectTV to trial a version of the check in live on the main screen by integrating the technology with their set-top box.
BSkyB recently bought into the UK’s zeebox – a social TV check in platform – insuring against it working its way in between them and the consumer, but also evidencing just how seriously the market is taking the issue. zeebox declares cheerfully that one of its features allows you to “easily buy products you see on screen”. No kidding. The app pulls layers of information about shows and, of course, products to your second screen – a process it harmlessly calls zeetagging. The viewer benefits from personalised recommendations backed with social influence. The success of these intermediary platforms will depend on how much interest and reward the viewers feel before they are pitched and pigeonholed as a standard source-of-cash consumer.
Next month, Channel 4 is launching a new channel – a relatively rare event in the UK now – called 4Seven. Here social media is a supporting act in reframing one of broadcast’s oldest tricks: the curated schedule. 4Seven will re-run the most talked about shows from the previous day in primetime slots. This is social-media-scheduled, most-wanted repeats, so long as the buzz is there. By demonstrating agility and an ability for quick response, Channel 4 will hope to extend the impact and reach of their shows. It’s also an exercise, no doubt, in bolstering its brand image, ready for the new wave of Social TV that it’s had in its peripheral vision for a while now.
So why, so far, are the great internet companies always the bridesmaids in this economy of attention? How did the television entertainment brands make a friend of social media? The internet brands, despite their huge efforts, are not often the destinations. Few brands could command the attention that NFL enjoys because few brands have this sort of compelling content. When it comes to content the internet is dependent on other people’s property: your friends, your business contacts, your photos, their music, television shows and movies. In the end, if you want the attention, perhaps you have to put on a show of your own.