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.

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The Rise of Social TV

Social TV – Enhancing the Experience

This year will see a lot of experimentation with bridging the television and social experience.  With more people actively watching while Tweeting, posting and checking in, the dual-screen environment offers greater connection for fans beyond the one-dimensional experience of traditional viewing. 

And, with the reported declines in monthly TV viewing, getting the people who are watching to pay more attention won’t hurt TV’s chances of weathering the increased pull of online video and other distractions.

The Evolution of a Medium

Networks and cable television have been the target of speculation for the past several years as an area where innovation would be the only way to sustain their relevance.  With the help of social media, these channels are finding that they’re becoming more relevant than ever as a platform for brands to find a deeper connection with consumers.

As brands adjust to the connected online discussion, they’re finding new ways to connect.  As consumer attention habits evolve to fit the new channels available to them, they’re finding more ways to tune in and discuss their favorite shows with friends online – and interact with brands.

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From: Social TV Applications Matrix 2012 Written by Mark Ghuneim on WiredSet.com

Current State of Social TV

Currently, broadcasters like Bravo, Oxygen, CNN, Fox and others are leading the way in social TV.  Social opens up new revenue streams for broadcasters giving brands additional avenues for sponsorship and advertising.  And, broadcasters are finding clever ways to maximize fan engagement during live broadcasts.  Sports programming like that of ESPN greatly benefits from live event programming, while MTV matches online content to fulfill the needs of their fan base.

And where broadcasters are treating their shows as brands themselves, they’re winning – reaping the benefits financially, and creating fan advocacy/loyalty too. Take, for example, Bravo TV and their impressive stats surrounding “Last Chance Kitchen” (the online competition allowed fans to vote back eliminated contestants).

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According to Bravo, 26% of the audience who watched “Top Chef: Texas” were actively involved in “Last Chance Kitchen,” and the reveal episode (where Bev won) was the season’s highest rated episode. Further, the social engagement around the program shattered all kinds of records for NBC Universal.

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MCN Buzzmeter by Trendrr

Brands Warm Up to Social TV

While broadcasters have begun to set the tone for social TV in its latest evolution, brands have been experimenting and looking for new ways to connect through social integration.  In fact, one brand that’s clearly risen to this challenge is Red Bull, as illustrated by a recent Fast Company article. They’ve completely immersed themselves in content its customers crave – and they’re reaping the benefits, financially.

Through advanced analytics, brands have more insightful knowledge about their customers than ever before, but even better – direct access to their fans is only a few keystrokes away.

Social TV – Beyond Twitter and Facebook

While hashtags during network broadcasts are becoming commonplace and Facebook integrations give fans a way to connect outside of regular programming, other tools are beginning to find their way into the social TV integration set.

GetGlue, the social TV check-in app continues to grow in popularity among television watchers.  In April, the social platform outpaced Facebook as the second-most-popular social engagement platform behind Twitter.

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Social music app Shazam has also been raising its profile among consumers of connected entertainment.  During shows like “The Voice,” fans can scan audio and download the songs sung by participants.  And “The Glee Project,” where fans could enter contests and further engage with the show.  Bringing music and other elements into the experience helps to extend the value beyond a discrete discussion fans are having with other fans and friends.

Social TV Guardrails

As brands push deeper into the opportunities to connect through this integrated medium, a few guideposts will help align the purpose with the experience.

1)     Convene to Create Value: With the television program the domain of the network, the brand can still have a relevant and effective presence in social TV.  Being the convener of the discussion or enabler of the social interaction can be just as compelling as being an advertising sponsor of the program.

2)     Enhance, Don’t Duplicate: Merely offering a duplicate experience through an alternate channel misses the point of the social TV viewing experience.  Bring viewers into a closer connection, broaden their understanding, get more detail, etc.  And, don’t limit this ability to merely the first run of the program.  Give consumers a reason to revisit the content and interact with the brand.

3)     Create Relevance: Being relevant will never go out of style.  It’s particularly important to bring something of value in the limited attention span of social TV.

4)     Create a Compelling Experience: Compelling content and experiences can come in any number of forms.  An integration doesn’t have to be overly complex to be compelling.  In fact, often it’s those integrations that disrupt the least that are most useful to the viewer.  Keep the viewer engaged in the experience they’re interested in, while giving them extensions that create value in that experience, rather than detracting from it.

5)     Not Marketing as Usual: Intruding on the viewer’s experience can be annoying at best.  Understand that the role of the brand is to bring something of value to the experience. Driving home a logo or brand value proposition should be in support of the overall experience, not the purpose for it.

So while it may be true that broadcasters are leading the charge right now, it’s only a matter of time before brands rise up and move from looking at social as another sponsorship/integration opportunity and shift their attention to creating or co-creating transmedia content that builds real advocacy and brand loyalty which will turn into real commerce.

The activities of the connected consumer will continue to evolve. Take this time to understand consumer attention patterns and how they consume information across channels.  Brands can engage in the precursors to social TV activities, like Twitter chats and social advertising to understand how consumers interact with content and the brand. Now is the time to test and learn with discretionary ad budget to discover what’s possible for the brand and its consumers.

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Thanks to Craig Alperowitz for contributing to this post. Television header photo courtesy of ccharmon on Flickr.

http://www.linkedin.com/in/bradmays // @bradmays // @socialisms

Television – The Reports of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated


Talk of television’s demise has circled since the Internet gained prominence in the late 90s.  The truth is, there will always be an appetite for good storytelling, and the television will remain a compelling medium for immersing ourselves in those stories.  But, as we’re all aware, it will not be the only medium where we can be entertained, informed and immersed in an experience.  

As the ubiquity of the mobile experience evolves, the opportunity to bring more immersive experiences to more places and mediums becomes more viable.  You can argue that watching a full-length movie created for the big screen on the small screen of a mobile device isn’t ideal, and most would agree.  But, the point here is less about the ability of content to transition from one medium to the next than it is in the expansion of opportunities to extend experiences and adapt a story line that can connect in context beyond the single platform, single format approach of old models.  This opens up the possibility to rethink production, creative and story development in a way that can transcend intended context and create a more cohesive experience.

Brands will soon look for ways to extend the experience beyond the flatscreen and onto the mobile screen.  The consumable, short format of the mobile device and brief attention of the mobile context offer opportunities for brands to extend an experience and connect with consumers.  This trend will continue as the intersection of social TV gets more defined.

Brand Opportunity
There are several opportunities for brands to get involved in this highly consumable story telling.  At the center of a brand’s approach must be an understanding of the passion areas that drive its consumers and where the brand intersects or enhances those passions.  

  • Create a mini-episode for FB, bringing fans into an extension of the brand’s passion areas (Camping with a S’more – “Ghost Stories”)
  • Extend the story from advertising within television shows to the web/mobile (A Day in the Digital Life of a Reese’s Cup – Commercial Shoot Behind the Scenes)
  • Crowdsource and select clips offerd by those passionate about the brand (Pedal Passions – Driving a Camero)
  • Create a reality-based series based on recurring events the brand supports (The Cullinary Cozumel – Recipes from Starwood Resorts; Storm Front – Weather-related Documentary from State Farm)

Creative Context
Understanding how content is discovered, consumed and shared in the connected context offers guidposts to making the experience engaging. 

  • Content Quality – a qualitative measure that’s less about the quality of production and more about the ability to capture and retain attention through good storytelling
  • Duration – the amount of time it takes to capture and retain attention, directly related to the places online and off the story will be told 
  • Connectivity – difficult to assess, but an understanding of the connection speeds and coverage areas for where the content will be consumed is fundamental to creating a positive experience for the consumer
  • Context – where, when and how the content might be consumed determined by the pathway the audience will find and experience the story 
  • Planning – often these can be extensions of an existing program with the right planning; build in as an extension of the creative brief, plan for capturing experiences around existing events, etc.

Australian producer Russell Boyd recently launched his take on the evolution of the short-form series designed specifically for the iPad, showing how new distribution models will impact the content industry.

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http://www.linkedin.com/in/bradmays // @bradmays // @socialisms