Today’s edition of The Observer carries an article on the race, by various broadcast and production companies, to optimize TV viewers’ engagement with prime-time shows, via portable devices – smartphones and tablets which are now considered the ‘second screens’ in the lounge.
It is a marked turn-around for the television industry which once lived in fear of distractions from its own output. It was only a couple of years ago that TV execs were crying into their corn-flakes over the possibility of losing more viewers to other entertainment properties – gaming, social networking, even streamed music consumption.
Now all these supposed threats have become fertile playing grounds for the TV industry. As Maggie Brown writes in the article, successful UK TV shows such as The Million Pound Drop, have experienced up to 11m plays on its interactive version online since 2010, with those at home able to experience the same questions as real contestants on the show – this equates to 12.4% of the shows 2.5m viewers playing in tandem. In the US, a 2011 white paper by Neilson/Yahoo estimated that the amount of TV viewers using a portable device while watching TV, could be up to 86%. That is a lot of potential engagement for any TV show.
Broadcasters have now realised the importance of social media in spreading hype about their programmes, long before it has begun and long after it has finished. A cursory scan of Twitter or Facebook throughout the course of last autumns UK X Factor series was laden with updates and commentary about the shows stars, the judges, who was evicted and what they were wearing. It was not necessary to check the TV pages of the newspaper the next day to discover who one – the name was trending on Twitter as soon as results were announced. This traction has now been fully embraced by savvy execs – many shows on prime-time now carry an ident during the ad breaks which suggests to viewers which hashtag they should use when talking about the show via Twitter. This allows for social media commentary to be tracked more easily and hence is more valuable to broadcasters when selling space to advertisers.
So what does the future hold? And how can brands take advantage? Unsurprisingly, it again comes down to content. Producing the right content that enhances, not hinders, the TV viewing experience is key. Creating either bespoke content (unseen footage, out-takes, interviews, games etc) or retail offers around TV shows will augment watching that TV programme. Choosing the right partner to deliver it will greatly affect too. As Jim Hanas outlines in this article for Fast Company Magazine, 2012 will define who can make money out of social television apps and my favourite are Miso (a platform which allows user to create their own content around TV programmes – a ‘WordPress for TV’) and Zeebox (an electronic TV guide driven by what others are watching). Both of these harness user-generated content to enhance the viewing experience.
For the PR world, such intense engagement between the viewer and the TV show could drive massive results for TV PR campaigns and for brands associated with these shows. Imagine a correlation so close that TV viewers could actually decide the outcomes and events of a TV script, right as you watch it. By hashtagging a possible scenario, those at home could actually decide which actor should be killed off, which hero gets the girl and how a new character is introduced – the world’s first user-generated TV programme! That would be something worth tweeting about.