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.