Guest Post – Emerging Television: Social TV and Participatory Psychology

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By: Zachary Weiner

Director of Global Marketing, Never.no

Co-founder, Connected TV Marketing Association

Understanding the true nature of Social TV and Participatory television is a lot less about technology and a lot more about psychology and sociology than most folks tend to realize or evangelize upon. Reading the media lately, we hear a lot about differing Social TV trends that whilst all true are lacking a very crucial understanding of the  behavioral background needed to capitalize upon these trends, which we’ll touch upon here (You lucky devils). 

At never.no (www.never.no) we’re looking into the emerging TV landscape holistically with respect to technology, media and psychology. It’s been brought to the TV industry’s attention that social media coupled with television watching increases viewer attention and engagement. Understanding why this is however, can allow those in the TV business to greatly take further advantage of these consumer behaviors. In what could  be hundreds of psychological correlations explored, I will simply highlight two I’d love to focus on, in order to further define and expand upon the notion that social interaction coupled with Television creates immensely  enhanced audience engagement and retention. 

Focused yet divided Attention: One reason multi-screen attention can create engagement:
In a study  conducted by Muller in 2003, findings proved that individuals can divide their attention between two compelling sources of visual  focus. Attention will shift between these two sources within half a second and the brain is still allowed enough time to be cognizant and involved with both. When this attention is divided by these two however, many other elements and stimuli that one might typically focus upon, no longer become relevant or even brought into consciousness. The person in the other room, that meatball sandwich in the fridge, the birds chirping outside, whatever it might be is easily ignored.

So when we engage television watchers, with not just programming on one screen, but also a correlated  visual task on another, whether it’s a synchronized companion application or a social call to action, we allow those viewers to have their attention span divided into the same core focus. This forced selective attention on two different yet correlated items creates a far greater level of engagement without distraction. Everything else without an incredibly compelling call to action. I.E. The pizza guy ringing the doorbell, or a significant other yelling to clean the dishes gets totally tuned out. (See, psychology can be fun.)

Lesson learned: By activating a synchronized companion to TV whether it’s participatory or social, we allow viewers to tune out many other potentially distracting elements around them. We create engagement sans distraction. The permutations of what we can do with this knowledge to further activate participation and interaction are nearly endless.

Group TV engagement begets larger groups and furthers audience retention and interaction
How we act as a group and how we act as individuals are two very separate items that have been the focus of copious behavioral research. One basic component of Social Identity Theory tells us that when we we are in group setting, we often follow, copy or mimic the behaviors of other group members. In the twitter/social media/TV sphere, this means that people who watch what we are watching may become  part of our perceived group, and as such, we often follow their lead on interaction and behavior. We may even mimic their thoughts and actions.

This concept is greatly tied in to the concept social proof, which for all terms and purposes, means that when making decisions, whether it’s what to watch, or how engaged we become, we rely on our social circles. We do this in order to resolve personal insecurities. The point here is that by creating large group behaviors, by creating social groups offline or online, we further the potential for new watchers to come onboard or old watchers to become more engaged. When we create groups around TV programming, we create followers and participators, who beget more followers and participators. Something all in the TV biz should be striving for. A domino effect of active watchers.

Perhaps you may be  thinking that a few tweets for instance are too small an event to influence social behavior.  A study by Taifel  (Tajfel et al., 1971)  proved that people standing together at a painting for 30 seconds could spark group trends and behaviors. Reading a variety of tweets can certainly cause a lot longer and more intensive interaction than a simple .30 seconds.

Lesson learned: 
There are some incredibly robust ways to create groups of watchers around each other. When we give them compelling tasks to participate or interact further with, more people will go ahead, watch and interact as well. The greater we can solidify this group presence the greater potential.  More viewers who are engaged= greater revenue possibilities and increased loyalty.

How we capitalize on these most basic psychological factors are nearly endless when we start to consider  the multitude of further implications. The moral of the story is that when we can create social behaviors that tie in multiple screens, we can create further engagement and retention. When we engage participatory actions that can be followed by a group we enhance the content experience and spread it.  There is much more to discuss here, but I will leave that for another Never.no post on the subject!

Follow more of Zach’s posts on the Never.no blog.

Photo credit: by DigitalBob8 on Flickr; used under Creative Commons.

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Social TV: Twitter and NBC Curate the Olympic Spirit

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Twitter has officially  announced a new partnership with US television network NBC   to curate millions of Olympic Tweets from athletes, their families and fans.  It’s the latest in the growing wave of Social TV activities brands and television networks are warming up to.

While much of the attention for marrying television programming and social networks is heating up, the potential has been there from the beginning.  In 2009, I sat in a conference room with Twitter’s Biz Stone and a few AT&T colleagues.  We were on a tour of San Francisco start-ups to find a way to connect the technologies of these new companies with the platform and reach of a global brand.  As we sat in the room brainstorming ways the two brands could work together, I mentioned how social media was making it harder for me to time-shift my television viewing.  I no longer wanted to record programs like the Grammy’s or sporting events to skip the commercials because the online (on Twitter) discussion I could have with my social graph made enduring the commercials more practical.

As a major sponsor of the upcoming college basketball tournament at the time, we saw the potential for that television event, which took place throughout the month of March, to curate the online fan conversation.  We knew fans would be out in numbers on Twitter sharing their support for their teams.  With development help from one of Twitter’s partners, we sketched out the user interface, identified the keywords to pull into the feed and launched the curation platform in time for the tournament.

While visits to the site were strong for the time, they would likely not stand up to the numbers on Twitter today. There have been more than a few changes in that platform and the use of social media since we launched what was Twitter’s first entrance into a sponsored Social TV experiment and one of its first paid efforts.  The volume of people on Twitter and in social channels as a whole has reached critical mass.  Familiarity with social media queues – like hashtags displayed during programming denoting an action that takes place online but ties to the content viewed on television. And, brand and network willingness to push into these new places where consumers are congregating and dialing into the connected conversation that’s happening online.

While our Social TV experiment with Twitter in 2009 was just an experiment, it’s an example of the need for brands to push beyond what’s popular today and into new areas of innovation.  There’s an overwhelming need for brands to have proof of concept and understand all of the variables before they experiment.  With the speed at which social adoption is taking place, there’s a need to push beyond the mediocrity that’s growing in the fundamental social and digital space and look at new ways to innovate in a way that might take brands outside of their comfort zone.  It’s in that zone that deeper connections can be made and true innovation happens.

(Post originally appeared July 25, 2012 on the Never.no blog.)

(Photo credit: by dhammza used under Creative Commons.)

GUEST POST: Blendable Reality: New Formats to move above and beyond Social TV

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By: Zachary Weiner

Director of Global Marketing, Never.no

Co-founder, Connected TV Marketing Association

This is another piece I’m syndicating straight from the Never.no blog, who is leading the Social TV and “Blendable Reality” space. 

If Content is king and data is queen, surely interaction and socialization must be the twin princes of the television royal family.  I’m not yet making an interlude into anything even digital related, but expressing a truth that has been around for decades, way before the ‘Social TV’ phenomenon we know and love today.

We’ve always been driven to heighten our interaction with entertainment. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, He-man, Alf, anyone? (I was an 80’s child). We bought these toys of our favorite TV shows so that we could deepen our interaction. People used to talk about Seinfeld and Friends at work, and nowadays still talk  about the latest episode of Glee, or game of thrones around the water cooler (and twitter). We’ve voted for our favorite idol via text, simply because we wanted to interact .While Nietzsche may have believed the world is a will to power, I think at the least, the world is a will to participate and television is certainly a ringing endorsement of this thought. Sure, we want a lean back experience, but often a lean back experience where we get to be involved. 

This is my segue into the digital. Today’s versions of TV interaction and TV socialization make participating not just something easy, but something that can be robust, seamless and endemic to the programming. A lot of the industry will use the term “Social TV” to describe modern day television socialization, but  many others will state that the term is completely  redundant. TV is social. I prefer to think of most emerging TV formats asa differing term; “Blendable Reality.” A diverse array of methods to blend lean back television content, with our own personal realities encompassing multiple paths to engagement . 

So rather than wax lyrically on the philosophical and make this another opinion piece, lets discuss what is possible and take two formats on how we can blend TV with reality in a participative fashion.  This post was influenced by utilizing enhanced TV technology platforms such as  never.no (www.never.no) 

Choose your own ending:  For decades we have been able to  orchestrate television programming that broadcasts live and straight into the homes of audiences. With further tech enablement we can now allow those same audiences to reach back into the studio or set with their digital fingertips in real time.  This format allows us to base elements of the show on real-time feedback. 

While we often see some very mild and simple versions of voting and polling, imagine the potential of diverse programming formats that lets those same audiences vote to choose the best ending instantly. 

  • Vote to see which two politicians should go head to head on a question.
  • Vote to see which game show contestant should be selected or dismissed.
  • Which sports star do you want to see more clips of? Let the at-home audience decide. 
  • Which news story should we feature tonight?  Tweet us and let us know.   
  • Do you want to see X reality star take train 1 or train 2? Choose now and watch your results instantly.  

This is true participatory television and it‘s easily orchestrated. Why settle for “reality TV” when we can shoot for “choose your own reality TV“?  Television where we have the will, the way and the technology to actually allow those at home to influence it in real time and participate live.  

We can engineer the endings of programming based on audience choice and rather than base TV on assumptions. We can actually give the audience exactly what they want in unique ways and the above examples barely scratch the surface. 

Television that Reaches out to the individual rather than the masses:

As discussed above, television has typically been a one to many format. This has worked well, but it can be even better. Why not allow television to reach out to both the masses as well as  home audiences on a one to one basis?  By reaching out to viewers in a personal way we can heighten viewer retention, interaction and loyalty. 

  • Text/tweet/FB/MMS now to enter a live contest. 
  • Can you beat this celebrity in a game of trivia?  We’ll pick your answer from our social audiences.  
  • “The next 5 tweets we display live will win a chance to join our next show”. 

We can pick specific individuals at home to play along live with linear TV. We can allow home audiences to add their own content.  With interactive second screens we can even reward individuals for their participation. Be the first to send us an MMS of you holding a can of Coke (or other branded beverage) and we’ll fly you out to meet the cast. (Had to throw an Ad integration in there…it’s what I know) 

We’ll go deeper into these formats some time, but the fact of the matter is that Social TV is already an old term. Creating new forms to enhances the current methodology however, is young, on the cusp and ready to be integrated.  Now. 

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Image by cookbookman17 and used under creative commons.