The Future Of Television: Exploring Marketing Opportunities with Social TV & Second Screen Apps at #SESNY

Welcome to AIMCLEAR‘s coverage of #SESNY 2013! What an interesting way to kick off an digital marketing conference – a keynote all about television. Talk about coming full circle in the universe of technology and advertising platforms. Day 1 of SES New York found scores of attendees filling up one of several dazzling ballroom in the Marriott Marquis, eagerly awaiting Mike Proulx‘s morning keynote, Social TV: How Marketers Can Reach and Engage Audiences by Connecting Television to the Web, Social Media, and Mobile. A mouth of a keynote title for sure, and rightly so – this keynote was packed with some fascinating information about the convergence of television media, social media, and multiple platforms and devices for marketing, broadcasting, and consuming content in today’s age.

Throughout the hour-long presentation, Mike shared thought-provoking stats and case studies illustrating the ever-evolving mash-up and ways popular brands are taking advantage of this exciting and somewhat undetermined marketing environment. Read on for a full keynote recap!

Television: A Catalyst for Search
From Google’s mouth to our ears, the search engine behemoth itself described television as “a major catalyst for search.” How can this be? An avid fan of the show How I Met Your Mother, Mike decided to map his interest in TV to trends online. Curiously enough, Google Trends indicated spikes in search traffic for the keyword “Robin Sparkles,” one of the character’s 80’s pop stage name, coinciding with the episode that leaked this charming secret identity. Imagine that.

Mike pointed out that in fact, television prompts 22% of mobile searches, making it a very powerful medium to drive our search behavior. But wait, there’s more! Not only are television shows “major catalysts” for search, but television commercials as well..

From Passive Watching To Live Engagement
This past August marked one of a few turning points regarding this shift—namely, Clint Eastwood’s now-famous discussion with an empty chair a.k.a. “Invisible Obama” at the Republican National Convention. Mike was watching the broadcast with friends. His iPad happened to be nearby. Twitter was open. A flood of commentary filled the digital stream. He shared the tweets with friends in the room who weren’t on Twitter. He tweeted with fellow convention-watchers across the country. The president himself joined the conversation with a sassy-smart Twitpic. The circle of media consumption and social engagement was forged. Instant feedback, baby.

The Beauty of Instant Feedback
Wisely, many television networks are taking advantage of this game-changing instant feedback. For example, American Idol ran real-time polls on Twitter to measure sentiment of viewers at home—did they agree, or not agree, voting decisions made by the judges?

What Is Social TV?
According to Mike, “It’s the convergence of social media and television.” Fair enough.But he followed up with this by asking, “…What is television in 2013?” Ready to explore this question, Mike introduced the three main topics he was going to discuss moving forward:

Television, Beliefs and Behaviors – The big gap that often exists between how we think about television vs. how we use television, and Brands – How big brands are taking advantage and working within the modern era.

Let’s start with television. Recently, Mike was guest lecturing at Boston University. He asked the students, “What is television?” One student passionately responded, “It’s the television set. Everything else isn’t television.”

Mike pretty much couldn’t disagree more. While television sets are prominent in the television world, television is much more than the physical set. He can watch sit-coms on our laptop. Is that not TV? He can live-stream CNN on his iPad. Is he not watching television when he does that? He can watch HBO on his iPhone. Is he not watching TV?

“Television today has transcended devices and channels,” Mike noted. But we can still think of television as being produced and distributed by networks, right?

Maybe not. The lines are blurring. Many media streaming companies, like Netflix and Hulu, have aggressive plans to create original content, thereby bypassing the television networks, and bringing it to the home by way of Internet connectivity.

  • Example: It cost Netflix around $100K to create and produce its own television series, House of Cards. Mike screened a brief clip for the audience. It felt like Hollywood quality content. But a television network is not broadcasting it. So the big question is: Is this television?

Mike’s two-cents: Yeah. It’s professional content. It feels like television. It even feels like a theatrical trailer for a feature length film. Another interesting twist: Netflix released the entire first season all at once, like a book. Why? Because you’re not going to want to wait a week to read a new chapter. Same goes for episodes. You want the whole shebang upfront. It’s original content like this that is starting to change the fundamentals of television. This is a big deal.

YouTube, Zeebox, & Groovy Digital Streaming Devices
Is YT television? It has a lot of partnerships with devices like Apple TV and Roku, for example. What these devices are doing is bringing us back to our living rooms. At the end of the day, we love TV, and we want to watch it on the big screen – with all its surround sound glory.

But today, our living rooms look a bit different – with, yes, the big screen TV in the background, and our iPads and iPhones and laptops right within arm’s reach. We’re interacting cross-stream. We’re integrating a “second screen movement” on TV.

The Social System Ecosystem of 2012 has positively exploded. [photo]

  • 40% of tablet or smartphone owners are using their devices daily while they’re watching TV.
  • Monthly, that’s 70%.
  • Conclusion: A lot of people multitask while watching TV.
  • This led to the explosion of developers launching those second screen apps.

One of these second screen apps is offered by Zeebox. This UK-based service just launched in the US late last year, brandishing big partnerships with Viacom, HBO, NBC and more (illustrating TV networks’ eagerness to invest in second screen apps). During the most recent Olympics, for example, NBC even had a small banner on-screen promoting Zeebox, encouraging viewers to download it.

Another groovy feature of Zeebox is its interactive tags that run along the right-side of the screen in the app UI – by some fascinating wizardry, the app can absorb and analyze the content airing and, real-time, grab suggested searches that directly correlate to the streaming content.

Is this something the masses really want? Welp, Zeebox announced hitting the 1 million download mark within 3 months of their launch. So, yeah. They want it. Now, to be fair, compare that to the 100 million TV households that exist in the United States… the figures don’t exactly compare, but it’s an impressive start.

Mike noted that Zeebox is really on the ball when it comes to game shows. Why? Naturally, we all play along as viewers at home – we all guess questions and shout answers, we all ways to win. One fancy second screen app layers allows viewers to do just that – it’s an overlay on the show that allows users to literally play from home, for the chance to win $10k. No joke! Mike pointed out that this is a great way to use a behavior and tie that to a technology that people are already using while they watch television.

Technology Can’t Save A Bad Show
While Mike fully admitted to being a true tech-lover, he conceded that it can’t save a bad TV show. Case in point: My Generation. Debuted in fall of 2010 on ABC. The team leveraged an iPad app that listened to what was happening during a broadcast and subsequently streamed additional trivia Qs, content, and so on to augment the show. Mike liked it, but apparently the rest of the world didn’t. It was cancelled after just two episodes.


The content of the show itself wasn’t awesome. And the content streaming was innocuous. That’s an issue second screen app providers have to face – identifying and creating the kind of content complements the TV show content. In that respect, we all have to come back to what television is all about: great content, great storytelling.

4 Great Ways Show Are Augmenting Content With Second Screen Content

  1. Top Chef, in its second season, launched a parallel web series, Last Chance Kitchen. While top Chef was airing, those who got voted off had the chance to compete on this web series for a chance to get back on the show – giving viewers two places to experience the content (and contestants) they love. Was it successful? The average television show garners 6 million views. This web series, per episode, was averaging 8 million views. Yeah. It was successful. Lisa Hsia, EVP of Digital Media at Bravo, commented on second screen technology: “We don’t want to be an extension. We want to be a digital experience that… is just as critical to the show.” Bravo indeed.
  2. The Oscars. They’ve been doing this second screen experience for a while. Mike particularly liked the iPad app that streamed video footage from cameras set up along different points on the red carpet, even behind the stage. Users could control which views they watched at any given time.
  3. Dallas. Truly a blast from the past. It’s been 20 years since Dallas aired on television, but it came back in a big way thanks to clever use of Facebook’s timeline– which, Mike pointed out, the team used exactly as it’s meant to be used. That is to say—they added content during the 20 year gap to help fill it out and give viewers some context and content for what the heck had been happening in the last two decade, and how it was all leading up to the new series premier. Cool!
  4. Defiance. This SyFy original series, premiering next month (April, 2013), is a particularly interesting hybrid. It’s not just a TV show, it’s also a multi player video game –as you play it, the gameplay effects what happens on the broadcast show, and what happens on the broadcast show gets pulled into the video game. This is a huge undertaking, and one reason Mike feels it stands a chance of succeeding is that they “did it from the start,” meaning the producers, writers, and so on were working together all along – rather than trying to make a standalone TV show social overnight.

Beliefs & Behaviors
In this next segment, Mike explored some beliefs (in some ways, misconceptions) many hold for television, compared to how we actually behave when it comes to television.

  • Belief #1 – Television is dying. Everyone thinks that. But in fact, we’re watching more TV than ever, with an average viewing of 35 hours per week. That’s 4.46 per day, up from 4.39 per day in 2008. This year, the Oscars had 40 mil people tune in, an increase from years past. If TV is dying, why are ratings increasing?
  • Belief #2 – Most people don’t watch TV live. Everyone thinks we’re in love with our DVRs, record everything, and never watch TV live. But that’s not the majority, not by a long shot. Just this past January, studies showed that 87% of broadcast TV is watched live compared to 13% that is watched time-shifted. Regarding cable programming, 93% is watched live, with only 7% watched time-shifted. And apparently 41% of recorded TV is never watched!
  • Belief #3 – Most people use other devices while watching TV. We know this to be true. Even Google stated that 77% of TV watching includes some other device. But let’s unpack that figure… 78% of activity is unrelated to the TV show a user is watching! So really, there’s a small % of people interacting on their second screen in a way that supports what they’re tuning into.
  • Belief #4 – Social activity affects ratings. While there is a correlation, there is no definitive causation. Still, news channels and TV shows often screen an overlay banner featuring a hashtag they want viewers at home to check out and contribute to. They want to remind users a conversation is happening. Mike ran a few experiments to test this and also found no definitive link. Sometimes shows with higher rankings have lower social activity – sometimes, that relationship is flip-flopped.

Sidebar: Big Moments on TV = More Tweets, Right?
Again, not necessarily. When Jennifer Hudson sand a tribute song to Whitney Houston at the Grammys, there was actually a noticeable drop in social media, while ratings soared. Why? People were enthralled by her performance – they stopped what they were doing (i.e. tweeting), to stop and listen.

“One of the biggest reasons we watch TV is to get lost in the story-lines,” Mike noted, “so why would we want to remove ourselves from that?” Why indeed.

Sidebar: What Kinds of Shows Work Well With Social?
We already learned that game shows play really well to social engagement. What else? Interestingly, dramas and sitcoms work a bit less well than sport events and contest reality shows. Why? Because the latter have natural pauses and breaks between plays and performances. Perfect bit of down-time to hop on Twitter or Facebook and comment on what’s going on.

Sidebar: What Social Channels Prompt Higher Ratings?
In several cases, Facebook was the clear victor over Twitter when it came to prompting users to tune into a certain television program. Mike warned against reading too much into these stags, as FB has a substantially larger user-base, so of course the numbers would be higher. In other words, it’s not an apples to apples comparison. That said, Twitter is an open social network (where you can connect and communicate with ANYONE), whereas Facebook is a closed network (only your friends see your status updates, unless you mark them as public).

  • Belief #5 – TV is traditional media. No. It’s new media, and it must be approached that way.

How are brands dealing with this rapid change?
Here’s some tasty examples for you to chew over…

  1. NCAA. During March Madness, the NCAA partnered with Twitter and Turner Broadcasting to show short clips of instant replays for people following along with the NCAA Twitter account. It made for an interesting way to watch and re-watch moments you wanted to see that perhaps the TV broadcast wouldn’t show more than one or two times. Coca-cola and AT&T got involved as well, showing two-second ad roll / bumpers prior to each instant replay. The ad messages played really well with the type of content being consumed. Smart move.
  2. Fashion Star. This fashion reality show integrated brands into the storyline of the content of the show itself, from Macy’s to Express to H&M. The judges of the clothing items were actual buyers at the brands—so fashion designers truly wanted to get in front of this panel. This was a neat way advertise genres, styles, behaviors, and so on – not to mention a great way to tie in-store traffic to a marketing campaign. Most of the items featured on the show and purchased by the store sold like hotcakes. (Yeah, I went there.)
  3. Lincoln. A month or two prior to the Superbowl, Lincoln began promoting its #steerthescript conversation with the help of Jimmy Fallon, encouraging followers to share their own car story on Twitter. Lincoln selected the 4-5 best tweets and brought them to life as actual commercials screened during its commercial slots Superbowl Sunday. Curious as to how many people participated, Mike pulled in mentions of the hashtag on Radian6. Around 2,000 people used the hashtag, which is not a remarkable amount – but it was the quality of the tweets and contributions that really mattered.
  4. Verizon Fios. Verizon created a commercial encouraging viewers to ask questions to three “real” Fios customers on Twitter. It was a cute idea, but resulted in a fair amount of spam.
  5. Psych. For its 100th episode, Psych will be airing a “Who Dun It?” murder mystery storyline, sponsored by Dunkin Donuts. Viewers are encouraged to help pick the ending live on Twitter by voting with a slightly branded (by Dunkin Donuts) hashtag.
  6. Oero. Also during the Superbowl, Oreo television commercials encouraged users to pop over to their Facebook page, which then ported folks over to its Instagram account, which amassed 20,000 followers in 15 seconds. Seriously. When the power went out in the stadium, Oreo was ready to pounce on the event with a clever image. Other brands followed suit.

Enriching vs. Hijacking
The technology is here, and brands are  getting on board. But the question remains: do we want our Twitter streams and social newsfeeds blowing up with brands over-trying to be witty and clever? No. “There is a big difference between enriching and hijacking the back-channel conversation in social TV,” Mike noted. “Where that line exists is still to be determined.” For now, best advice is to tread lightly – be excited about the possibilities, but be tasteful, creative, and contribute real value in the process. In other words – enrich the conversation – don’t hijack it.

“Television is alive as it’s ever been,” Mike concluded. “The story of television… we’re just at the beginning.”

Phew! Well that about does it for this conference kickoff. Stick around on AIMCLEAR blog for more coverage comin’ atcha from #SESNY 2013!

Photo credit: mileyeditionss on

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