Facebook gives broadcasters new game-changing tools for engaging live TV audiences

Two years ago at MIPCOM, Facebook released a new set of APIs for media partners in attempt to capture more of the real time conversation around TV.

Since then, Facebook has made its presence felt on red carpets, backstage, and even on TODAY, where the show’s Orange Room leverages Facebook’s ‘trending’ data in segments.

Today at MIPCOM, Facebook is announcing new tools for broadcasters and fans that center on the participatory aspects of live TV. The conversation around shows is one thing, but giving audiences the ability to affect the outcomes of shows is what makes series like The Voice, America’s Got Talent, and American Idol among the most popular on TV.

Telescope, a real-time social solutions company, has powered the live voting features for the shows mentioned above using Facebook’s API. This is a large part of why Facebook is partnering with the company on some of the major new tools it is introducing, including hashtag voting, photo and video submission, and a video gallery.

The feature that will excite broadcasters most is hashtag voting, which allows users to cast votes within a top-level post or a comment. Previously, shows would direct users to apps within pages; this created too much friction for all but superfans. Now, producers can make use of hashtag voting to affect show outcomes by giving fans either a unique hashtag or a hashtag trigger (like #NBABallot) followed by a free text with another voting option (like Steph Curry). The feature is available via the API and it will enable more shows to to incorporate things like “instant saves” and real-time awards.

Both internal and external research drove the creation of the new tools. Ahead of MIPCOM, we spoke with Bob Morgan, Facebook’s Media Solutions lead, who cited studies by Accenture and Millward Brown showing how prevalent second screens are in the hands of TV viewers, and how much of the second screen use is devoted to Facebook.

As for Facebook’s own research, “we actually see that Facebook use peaks in primetime in every country around the globe, and the maximum daily Facebook audience occurs at the same time as the maximum TV viewing is happening,” Morgan told us.

If hashtag voting will make audiences more engaged, another one of the new tools, native polling, will make things easier for producers. Facebook media partners can now poll audiences with a post featuring a photo and 10 choices – they can then, via the API, pull in the responses and integrate them into the telecast.

“We have been getting a lot of requests from our community of media partners for better ways to pull audiences natively on Facebook, and native polling does that,” Morgan said. “Say a sports show wants to ask a question about Sunday’s NFL game; they can get the results instantly and pull it into their broadcast graphic system, displaying the results as soon as they start coming in from their page posts.”

Another of the tools, photo and video submission, was on display last month at the Fox-Facebook GOP Debate. Photos and videos can be submitted to show pages via the Telescope-powered app pages, where they can then be integrated into telecasts. For the debate, 40,000 video questions were submitted.

Two other new features, a video gallery (another user submission initiative, which has already been utilized by HBO’s Project Greenlight) and custom icons (branded icons that display with specific user status updates), are also being introduced.

If Twitter is seeking to remain the go-to social platform for fans to talk about shows – and this is no certainty – then Facebook, with its new tools, is seeking to become the go-to social platform for fans to participatein shows.

This participatory aspect of social TV, while fun for viewers, is becoming increasingly important to broadcasters and their bottom lines.

“The traditional TV business – by which I mean networks who monetize their content primarily through 30-second spot advertising within a schedule and producers who make that content – is looking for any way to support their existing business model,” Jason George, CEO of Telescope, told Found Remote. “They’re effectively saying to consumers ‘of course you can watch this content on our TV Everywhere service via your iPad, but if you want this premium experience whereby you can engage in real-time with the talent and rest of the show’s fans, impact the result, and get exclusive content then you have to watch live.’ They now see the ability of social networks like Facebook to mobilize their huge subscriber base and drive discovery of their show - as well as engagement before, during and after the broadcast – as a key part of their marketing and programming strategy.”

This strategy, George continued, works today. In the future, though, broadcasters may rely even more heavily on Facebook – and this may not be a bad thing.

“Facebook is also becoming a means to distribute premium content in its own right and I can only see that increasing in the coming years,” said George. “This will further close the gap between content creators and fans, and create further ways to deeply involve audiences in their favorite content. Facebook’s ability to drive trusted recommendations makes it a natural partner to content creators who are increasingly worried about how fans will find and consume their shows.”

Natan Edelsburg contributed reporting.

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