#SocialTV – The Civil War Rages On

I wrote the essay below last month as part of my interview process with Bluefin Labs in Cambridge, MA. I’m THRILLED to announce that I’ve since accepted a position with them as Associate Marketing Manager/social media wizard and I now spend my days immersed in the world of social TV analytics. I adore it.

Anyways, I’ve been meaning to post this so here you go…enjoy. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and don’t be afraid to challenge what I’ve laid out! 

The TV industry is in the midst of a civil war. The players have failed to collectively and cooperatively adapt to the explosion of mobile technologies and time-shifted, streaming content. Video-on-demand has caused a significant decrease in the amount of available ad space, and as advertising has been a financial tent pole of the industry for decades, this is a problem.

The result is a full-fledged war with independent distributors. Netflix, once applauded for its excellent library of network content, has been unable to renew contracts with key suppliers. The decrease in availability of popular content is upsetting a customer base that has quickly become accustomed to getting TV wherever, whenever, and however they want it. The advent of social media has enabled consumers to voice their opinions and concerns publicly – and they’re ready for someone to start listening. If the TV industry wants to remain an integral part of daily life, it needs to stop fighting and tune in. The opportunity for the evolution of both broadcast and advertising models has arrived via social media.

The current TV landscape, filled with on-screen hashtags and second screen apps, encourages social engagement around content. Self-elected focus groups are emerging on Facebook and Twitter, with viewers voicing their honest opinions about show storylines and brand advertising. Companies like Bluefin Labs, Trendrr, and Social Guide are analyzing this social media data and making custom reports available. This data can be harnessed by the industry to create unprecedented engagement and loyalty around content.

Reality TV and game shows are already doing this to some extent with online voting, but that merely scratches the surface of what’s possible. The future of TV depends on an overarching model where network and ad content are driven by social engagement.

By allowing viewers to change or even create show storylines via social media comments, creators can develop pre, during, and post show content, keeping audiences engaged longer. This gives viewers a vested interest in watching a show in real time. Knowing that their opinion and feedback are being recognized will increase loyalty, but time-shifted content is here to stay so further adaptation is needed.

Until recently, viewers accepted commercials as a necessary evil in the television world. Now, mobile, on-demand, and time-shifted content threatens this advertising model. Platforms like Netflix give viewers an ad-free entertainment experience, which frustrates advertisers, and their discontent is causing the networks to pull top streaming content from independent providers in an effort to maintain funding.

The TV industry is missing an opportunity for cooperation here. By focusing on tailoring advertising to the consumer based on what they’re watching and what they’re saying online, the industry can deliver a uniquely personal brand experience, regardless of delivery medium. Relevant advertising will be better received by the consumer, even if included in time-shifted content.

Independent platforms like Hulu and YouTube are already doing this with “choose-your-own-ad” options before shows. The industry needs to agree upon a model similar to this for all platforms and distributors. Better-targeted media buys within this model are possible, based on the demographical data provided by social media that reveals what brands certain show audiences are talking about online.

The data is there, the technology is in place… so what’s holding the TV industry back? My best guess is fear. They’re clinging to old broadcast and advertising models because they are “tried and true.” In doing so, they’re ignoring the honest opinions of millions of consumers who are dying to be heard. If TV wants to get out of its rut, they’ve got to start listening. Because you see, it’s all about human connection. “TV is the most powerful medium in the world. It fulfills basic human needs: it informs, connects us socially, and creates incredibly powerful emotions.” (James McQuivey, Forrester Research, at Hill Holliday’s TVNext Summit, 2011)

By taking the social currency of TV and blending it with feedback from social media, the television industry has a chance to create personal experiences for audiences based on true interaction between content creators and viewers. If key players of the TV industry can stop fighting long enough to listen to consumers, they will discover a symbiotic world where content creation, distribution, and advertising blend to create a satisfying and profitable viewing experience.


5 responses to “#SocialTV – The Civil War Rages On

  1. Hi Eleanor,

    first of all, I like your positive approach and certainly agree with what we all know: TV and media in general will become more personal – both in terms of content discovery and delivery as well serving non-obstrusive relevant advertising.

    TV though is a multi-billon Dollar industry with an ecosystem developed over the past 50 years. Content producers, networks and marketers have mutually accepted the linear TV model that maximized their revenues with without the need to listen to consumers – it just worked.

    Thanks to an impressive leap in technology and the proliferation of social networks the one-to-many one-way communication is becoming obsolete and consumers expecting TV Everywhere, TV Anywhere and a platform to communicate their thoughts, likes and dislikes (“social connector”).

    Artificial Intelligence as leveraged by bluefinlabs and Sidebar helps networks and marketers to “make sense out of the terra bytes of data consolidated across multiple social networks, content catalogs and feedback loops ” to deliver meaningful content at the right time to the right device.

    Looking forward to jointly exploring this truly exciting area further.



  2. Pingback: AmEx and Twitter’s New Program – Sync Tweet Save | Eleanor K. Dowling

  3. Hey Eleanor, interesting article. What do you make of the increase of traditional television viewing and the resurgence (ever so slightly) of live and linear television? Some suggest that social media is strengthening the traditional “old school’ TV model. From where you sit and the data you see, would you agree?

    • Eleanor Dowling

      Hi James,

      Thanks for your comment, and great question. I’ve seen a lot of debate about this topic but from my experience, I think social media has helped – ever so little – the resurgence of appointment viewing. More specifically, people are tuning in to their favorite shows live because they don’t want to see spoilers on social media the day after. This is especially true when it comes to reality TV and voting shows like The Voice and American Idol. You probably heard that The Voice is releasing a new Facebook app for the timeline next week (http://ow.ly/9Zrje) Engagement tactics like this help drive viewer tune in because it makes it a real-time, participatory event…but as of now, I think people tune in more just to avoid the spoilers vs. the fun of engaging with second screen apps during the show.

      If content production can make the leap and actual start to integrate viewer feedback into their story lines as I suggested in this post, or use Twitter in more creative ways to engage audiences (see this article from MIPCube: http://www.c21media.net/archives/79616) then I think live TV viewing has an even better chance of coming back strong.

      All of that being said, the consumer has had a taste of TVeverywhere/whenever, and their appetite for OTT content is only going to grow. The TV industry needs to realize and accept this, and integrate it into their overall strategy.

      In my ideal world, I envision a world where you subscribe to shows instead of networks….and can get the content you what, when you want it, delivered on any screen.

      This is probably a much more elaborate answer than you were looking for! Sorry, once I get started on this stuff it’s hard to stop. I’m addicted :P

  4. Certainly interesting to see how this is all turning out, despite the continual prediction that TV as we know it will die :)

    I too think social media is helping bring back linear. But I also think linear in itself is a crucial component to most television (not all). I did a thought piece on it awhile back, have a read http://eepurl.com/jxLan

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