Wednesday, 2 May 2012


If approximately 86% ofpeople (who use mobile Internet) use their phones or secondary devices whilewatching TV - it stems to reason that brands would capitalize upon this trend.  As recently published by the Sun, “Social media is to TV networks what fantasy football is to the NFL.”

To this end, whether simple user feedback, real time voting, location based content, third-party promotions or sponsorship – supporting TV using social media is all about providing a dynamic, relevant, participatory second-screen experience.

Pepsi’s co-viewing (aka social TV) platform ‘Pulse’, for example, is designed to get the most out of their "X-factor" sponsorship by extending viewers a way to interact with each other and the show – Overview  - A corresponding Pepsi 'Sound Off' platform (modeled after Twitter) is a place for fans to connect during shows and incorporates a gaming mechanism.

Heineken's StarPlayer is another example is a dynamic, participatory second-screen experience that lets fans watch UEFA Champions League (UCL) matches on TV while they play the game in real-time. When a key event occurs, the app triggers in real-time a 'Match Moment' and gamers are asked to choose from outcome options (for example, “will that goal go in?”)

Each week during “The Glee Project”, viewers can participate in missions to earn custom badges and points for a more personalized experience. The points unlock sneak peeks and live chats with contenders, among other rewards. Points also could win users face-to-face meetings with contestants. On the platform, Glee Project  fans can use Twitter hashtags to vote for their favorite contenders during “Last Chance Performances.” Their votes will be displayed on TV in real time with the top vote-getter winning a featured spot on Oxygen Connect.

When USA’s hit show 'Suits' returns to the airwaves on June 14, fans will already be part of the storyline, thanks to a new interactive social TV campaign that the network is rolling out.  Known as “Suits Recruits,” the interactive and social media-laden experience allows fans to join the team at Pearson Hardman and help Harvey and Mike work on an on-going case.  This isn’t the first time USA has dipped into the social TV/transmedia waters. Last year, the network launched of a first-of-its kind interactive experience for Psych dubbed #HashTagKiller

However, a show's online engagement doesn't always translate into big viewing audiences.  Adding gamification elements to extend and reward engagement with exclusive badges (while establishing a tribal hierarchy) only fuels this second-screen experience further.   All this while prompting viewers to watch the TV show when it airs. As a viewer, you may not care. But for broadcasters, the power of push matters a lot.  

Most importantly, all of these examples allow networks to further fuel the fans’ desire to root for and connect with their favourite content, which is what drives passion and loyalty. It’s really about fishing where the fish are and using the right bait.  To this end, there's an entire wave of start-ups, technologies and platforms that open up new possibilities for brands and media connect with fans and to build engagement around their content.  Click here for more examples of Integration of Social Media with Live Television.

All too often, even the best examples of social media in entertainment are simply finding new ways to connect with those to whom they’re already connected.  So, how do you expand the reach of a network, program or personality beyond the reach of the existing audience?  It starts by seeing the future of television as much more than social.  Social media merely connects the individual nodes that make up the human network.  Social however, is not a means to an end.   As such, the same is true about the working theories driving Social TV. Understanding the role social plays in how viewers connect with programs and other people is essential to defining the future of television.

To start, the future of television is more than integrating Tweets or #hashtags into the programming to start a “global conversation”.  This is a time when bringing to life what’s possible takes imagination, design, scripting, and innovation. We need to raise the bar. The future of TV won’t be driven by a social media strategy. Instead, the future of TV will be driven by innovation and a vision for more meaningful entertainment and engagement.  This innovation will in turn inspire new programming, revenue opportunities and ultimately social media strategies. 

The program is the event
It’s the epicenter of engagement. The future of TV starts with defining how the event is alluring, captivating, and most importantly shareable.  It is in the context of each device and the context of the event that brings viewers together. The nature of the event also defines are engagement is triggered. We can’t assume that content and channels are agnostic. What we can assume is that audiences are already more fractured and distributed. Each channel (broadcast, online, and social) and each device serves a purpose. But no purpose will ever compensate for content or events that are not participatory.

If you think about it, some of the biggest events, such as the Super Bowl and the GRAMMYs, are only earning greater concentrations of live audiences. This is in part due to the content of the event, but it’s also driven by the conversations that make the event communal, a real-time exchange. Whether it’s driven by a fear of missing out (FOMO) or a desire to share in the experience, broadcast events are conduits to live participation and as such, can be designed to spark online engagement.

It’s about effectively engaging a connected class of consumers who live the digital lifestyle. And, they are not only connected, they’re incredibly discerning. Connected consumers don’t just expect online, on-demand streaming optimized for each device, they expect to engage in each screen differently and in a dynamic way. This is where you come in. The experience requires definition. The experience requires architecture. And, the supporting experiential infrastructure must be adaptive. It’s part programming, part mobile and social media, and part engagement. It’s also episodic and continual.

Today, we’re seeing experimentation across the screens with strategies that invite audience participation. Some live shows now run social media tickers during programs. Other live events feature tweets and also live statistics based on social media analytics. Some programs are integrating community participation into content. Others are using social media to tell supporting stories between seasons or airing special webisodes to keep interest and anticipation high between on air programs. Apps are also emerging to open new windows between programs and mobile audiences.

So what? What we need to do for any of these initiatives to work is to align them with a higher purpose and a vision for what the new relationship looks like between viewer and the program, the viewer and the program’s elements, storyline and characters/roles, between the viewer and the screen, and between viewers and other viewers.

You must first answer questions.  What is the objective and the purpose of your social TV initiative? What kind of relationship are you striving for and how will you enliven it through each channel in a way that’s not only engaging, but also relevant? What would the “Tweet heard around the world” look like and what is the social spark that would trigger activity? What does the experience look like on a mobile phone, tablet, PC, and a TV? Meaning, what does the second and third screen experience look like? Design it and also design it back into the first screen programming. Programming is just the beginning. Advertising also has a new opportunity to engage in a more meaningful way.

Rather than simply buying seconds and using spots to promote social media campaigns, visits to Facebook pages or rallies to Tweet a branded hashtag (brandtag), think about it as a way to tell a story that can live beyond the spot or beyond the campaign. Old Spice learned that its commercials were too successful to treat as traditional campaigns that would start and stop. Viewers don’t “turn off” so why wouldn’t a great story continue to live on across distributed platforms where consumers are more than willing to engage? Now, Old Spice hosts an ongoing experience where its campaign has become a transmedia experience that perseveres across online, broadcast and social channels. The story, the product, the series keeps viewers engaged. The series also strives to make consumers part of the story where custom videos are created based on input and participation.

Product placement is also open for reinvention. By making products or brands part of the story, advertisers have new opportunities for contextualized storytelling across multiple platforms and the ability to host new interactions, build communities or drive desired outcomes. Everything of course is based on the story advertisers wish to tell and the experience they wish to delivery. The point is that advertising doesn’t just have to end nor does it have to be limited to a finite engagement in new networks and platforms. Storytelling and consumer engagement are infinite if they’re compelling, delightful and shareable. But then again, it takes a different vision supported by an irresistible purpose or intention.

Through experimentation, we are seeing what’s possible. However, networks, advertisers, and producers, must think beyond technology and rethink experiences. By not focusing on the experience or defining the nature of relationships, we fall to mediumalism a condition where we place inordinate weight on the technology of any medium rather than amplifying platform strengths to deliver desired experiences, activity, and outcomes.

The future of Social TV is not yet written nor has it been broadcast. It takes vision. It takes creativity and imagination. It takes innovation. Most importantly, it takes the architecture of experiences to engage, enchant and activate viewers across multiple screens. A hashtag is not a second or third screen experience. Right now, viewers are taking to multiple screens without any cues or direction. What it is you want them to do or say explicit design for each screen. Doing so will inspire more informed and creative ideas through the entire broadcast ecosystem, including the original programming on the main screen.
Have other great examples of Social Media enhancing the TV viewing experience?  Please share on Goodbuzz or simply email to us.  Need some help prototyping a dynamic, relevant, participatory second-screen experience?  We’re here to help.