Social TV: The current state of play

As one of the biggest behaviour changes we’re seeing since the box was invented, Social TV genuinely interests me. Gone are the days when families would huddle around their TV to share their favourite programs. Okay that’s a bit of an exaggeration, those days aren’t gone altogether, however there’s a much bigger huddle in the room when you add in the various people we share that experience with through our smartphones, tablets and laptops. The family is no longer focussed entirely on each other, in fact there could be a number of conversations going on at the same time. When it comes to the television itself, there is a trend of people choosing to watch shows on demand through their computers and tablets instead of having a television in the room at all.

The data we’re now able to get from online listening have proven to be hugely valuable in terms of understanding the thoughts, views and behaviours of the viewing public, which has gone as far as to predict the outcome of live vote shows such as the X Factor. For broadcasters and production companies, this rich data adds an exciting new layer of insight to add to viewing figures.

I recently attended the Social Media World Forum, which had a dedicated Social TV programme of talks on the first day (testament in itself to the importance of the topic). I pretty much stayed in that seminar room throughout the day and listened in on some interesting talks and debates, here are some highlights.

Claire Tavernier of Fremantle Media gave us some interesting insight from case studies that have worked well, X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, arguably formats that lend themselves well to Social TV due to their live and audience inclusive nature. Fremantle focus on achieving three set social media objectives for their shows: monetisation, audience retention and audience acquisition, with all activity being measured against each. Claire shared five rules for Social TV:

1. Most people prefer to watch the programme. Therefore any activity mustn’t take away from the show. People should have the option to interact, rather than be forced into it.

2. Don’t be ahead of the curve. Wait for it to become big enough for your audience to know about it .

3. Don’t force it. Some things will work for one program and not another, learn and move on.

4. Customise. Use the various platforms on offer: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Games, Apps etc, and use a different approach for each programme and each platform. There’s no one size fits all.

5. Share control. None of this would happen if we didn’t accept that some things will just happen without us. This can be a scary prospect for content producers, so make the most insight by listening in to what people are saying about shows and use this to drive strategy.

Iain Dendle of Shazam shared his thoughts on why viewers want to interact with TV:

To get more information. Whether that’s deleted scenes, interviews or exclusive content. This content already exists, but only a small fraction of people go to look at it. Social TV activity can drive that.

Saving for later. Most people want to watch TV and not be distracted by the interactive experience, so saving things for later is an important part of that interaction, and of course leaves the choice in the hands of the viewer.

Share. Being able to share the experiences we have while watching TV is compelling for users, which explains the appeal of apps like Zeebox and Shazam.

Save money. Through things like coupons, awarded through sites like Shazam and Get Glue.

 Buy. By using the journey viewers are taken on to a purchase point, which is a key way people want to interact with TV (apparently).

Iain then went on to talk about why people want to interact with the second screen:

The screens are out there and widely used. Most people have something they can use to interact: smartphone, tablets, laptops etc. Watching TV has historically been a social experience and the second screen naturally extends that interaction. It’s also harder to do that on the first screen as it can disrupt the viewing for others in the room.

68% of people use smartphones while watching TV (Nielson, Mobile Connected Devise Report, 2011).

Many users are involved in other activities while watching TV. In fact less than 30% view things related to what they’re watching.

Shazam itself is an interesting app as it allows users to hold it up to the TV while they’re viewing, record 10 seconds of that program and find extra content, information, coupons etc. Although I question the benefit to the broadcaster or production company as much of the interaction happens on Shazam rather than on their own social/digital channels. But that’s the same for many social TV apps.

Next up was Simon Miller of Zeebox. The darling of Social TV apps, Zeebox has had a meteoric rise over the past year, although it touts itself as less of an app and more of a second screen platform. Your “TV Sidekick” if you will. Simon shared his thoughts on how second screen is augmenting TV: by giving users the chance to control the TV, discover and recommend content, socialise, get information, play games, purchase product and create user generated experiences. Oh, and of course to watch. He thinks that the most important part of all that is to get information, the second is to buy things (like the music in the background, the dress the character is wearing, the knife the chef is using etc). Social comes a little further down that list, which is interesting. Simon calls it an augmented TV revolution rather than a social revolution.

Again, Zeebox takes the viewer to the app, rather than the programme’s social channels and does feel a little over complicated, taking attention away from the show and onto Zeebox. It’s going through rapid development though and will soon offer things like rewards for loyalty and influence, real time ratings through new analytics and insight tools, personalised TV recommendations, Facebook and Twitter integration, cast and crew navigation (so you’ll be notified when your favourite actor is on the box), second screen advertising that allows you to purchase straight from the app and much more. What’s more Zeebox has an open API (Open Box) which could be interesting for partners. Certainly one to keep a close eye on.

As part of a wider panel, Eric Guillaume of ITV, thought that consumer demand is ahead of organisations like ITV and they are going through a transformation to catch up. Their aim is to grow audiences through social to increase viewing figures and distribute content online. User experience is key, it needs to be very very simple. Content commissioning is also key, which is still handled traditionally with production and content creators developing for traditional broadcast and digital content production relegated to an after thought. Certainly the area of content creation needs a rethink and much better planning from the start.

Emma Marrow of Immobile gave her thoughts on how best to use social to build an audience and suggested, quite rightly, that it has to begin with broadcasters and production companies. Social is a new technology for them to get to grips with, but it’s also a mind shift and broadcasters have been using the one to many model of pushing content out for a long time. With social TV they need to think in terms of one to many, one to one, many to one etc. They need to understand the audience better, have a conversation with the people that are watching and engaging through social to truly understand the type of content they need to produce.

Dan Patton of MTV UK and Ireland shared his experience of using social TV for Geordie Shore. They sustained interest across all episodes by making the cast responsible for conversation and, thus, building a genuine relationship that has as direct affect on ratings. However Dan pointed out that we’re really in the early stages of second screen. We have no real definition of Social TV and in fact all we’re doing is using social media to drive viewing on linear channels. He suggested that after another 6 months we might have a better idea of who’s doing it right and what the mass audience wants.

To sum up then, Social TV is a relatively new and untapped area and we’re still learning what does and doesn’t work. Broadcasters and production companies themselves seem to be behind the curve and continue with traditional content planning when, in fact, they could open up a whole world of opportunity if they included social and digital content planning from the start. Hopefully the recent spate of results will make them sit up and take notice that there is a conversation going on before, during and after the episodes that can drive awareness and viewing figures dramatically. Online listening is crucial to this as this rich insight can help them to develop the right content for the right platforms as well as justifying using second screen engagement in the first place. I think that over the next 12 months we’ll see social TV and second screen engagement develop drastically as viewer participation evolves and drives new ideas and formats. Personally I’m excited to be part of it.

The next event I’m attending is the Social TV World Summit on the 22 – 23 May 2012 in London. I hope to see you there, if not I’ll be sure to report back from that event too.