How social is driving the end of TV as we know it – and why the Kardashians could be bigger than the Beatles

In 1964, the Beatles’ appearance on Ed Sullivan was a watershed moment in America.

“At that time, if you wanted to be relevant, you went on Ed Sullivan,” said Matt Britton, CEO of online community Crowdtap, at Social Media Week in New York on Wednesday (March 1). “It signified a Golden Era of TV. There were four channels you could watch and few other things for families to do. That approach to media lasted 35 years. If you had a viable product and a checkbook, you could write a check and get on TV.”

This so-called Golden Era also included beloved TV shows like Mash, the Cosby Show and Seinfeld – the latter of which signified the end of the era, Britton added.

Case in point: While 50% of all broadcast TV was sitcoms when the last episode of Seinfeld aired, it’s down to 4% now, Britton said.

From the Golden Era, the Reality Evolution was born in which shows like American Idol had real power because the American public could see its stars cross the chasm from TV to real life, Britton said.

But reality TV peaked around 2008 and, from there, we saw what Britton described as the Social/Mobile State of Shock, which, not surprisingly, was driven by Twitter, Facebook and the iPhone itself.

“All young consumers were spending time [on these devices] and advertisers didn’t know what to make of it,” Britton said, pointing to the battle between Ashton Kutcher and CNN to see who would reach 1m Twitter followers first.

“Ashton knew if he had reach on social, it could prop up his TV career,” Britton said. And, he noted, that’s precisely what happened when he replaced Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men, which Britton said he expects is because at least in part CBS thought it could get a ratings boost from Kutcher’s social base.

And the lesson here is that brands are people and people are brands.

“Brands have to figure out how to turn themselves into people,” Britton said. “The brand itself has to come to life and Ashton Kutcher has to become a brand himself so he is able to cash in the brand value.”

After this Social/Mobile State of Shock, we entered what Britton called the Selfie Revolution.

There were some hiccups along the way – like, say, the infamous Oreo tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl – which Britton called “the greatest clip art of all time” – and inspired countless copycats at the Oscars that year after the Harvard Business Review said advertisers should act more like newsrooms and every brand jumped on the newsjack bandwagon.

But then along came Instagram, which, in 2012, leapfrogged Twitter in usage.

“With Instagram, pictures really do speak 1,000 words,” Britton said. “Ashton Kutcher on Twitter is not nearly as powerful as the ability to make consumers stars in their own right [with the] powerful cameras in their phones.”

Britton pointed to Ellen’s selfie at the Oscars that broke the all-time retweet record.

“TV and social were becoming more connected,” Britton said. “It was an incredible integration by Samsung and Ellen showed the world what it could do if it was creative.”

No one, however, is as creative as the Kardashians, which Britton said have had the same impact as the Beatles, relatively speaking.

“They started in reality TV in 2007, but they’re still going and growing,” Britton said. “They did the opposite of Ashton Kutcher, who took his social presence to prop up a TV career whereas the Kardashians used their TV presence to feed a social beast…they understand how to build a brand. It’s the penultimate case study of how to pool social presence from broadcast TV.”

And they’ve been able to monetize this social presence with tweets about teas and tummy tucks that consumers actually buy.

“Websites go down [after they post],” Britton said. “This is real influence. When you post something and shit sells, that’s influence.”

The younger Jenner sisters have allowed the Kardashians to extend their power, which Britton said they can do again when Kim’s kids North and Saint West are older.

“[Their influence is] bigger than the Beatles because the Beatles did not reproduce,” he added.

And, from here, social will drive the end of TV as we know it, Britton said.

Look at DJ Khaled, who has used social broadly – and Snapchat in particular – to become culturally relevant, Britton said.

But it was Instagram’s launch of live video in November 2016 that marked the biggest moment in social becoming the new TV, Britton said, pointing to Justin Bieber’s first broadcast, which was unscripted and unannounced and still peaked at 275,000 viewers.

“But what if he did something semi-cool and promoted it?” Britton asked.

And as celebrities continue to script their lives to remain relevant, their lives are becoming more and more of a monetization engine with hyper engaged audiences on social – that are certainly more engaged than the audiences of traditional TV advertising, Britton said.

And this points to a dim future for broadcast TV networks, Britton said. In fact, he thinks Apple TV “will break TV one day” and the screen itself will “become a giant iPad hanging on the wall.”

Further, Britton said the only networks that will likely survive are sports networks in large part because traditional TV networks simply aggregate and curate content, which viewers really don’t need anymore.

Instead, the interface on the giant iPad on the wall will include celebrities, who will become their own networks, as well as TV shows, which won’t be housed in networks anymore. And, from there, TV will become more addressable. That means TV advertising dollars will be diverted to other platforms and the space is about to get super-fragmented, Britton said.

“Facebook is the clear winner because of data and targetability. They win no matter what,” Britton said. “But the three that will battle it out are the ecosystem players: Apple, Google and Microsoft.”

That’s because they have mobile operating systems, social platforms and they can deliver entertainment.

And because in part voice will be the ultimate input, Britton said players like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast – who have all bought content companies as of late – could also be players here, but they don’t have an equivalent mobile ecosystem and Apple could shut them out. And while noting Amazon is becoming a content house, Britton pointed to its failures with both Fire and Kindle – which was outpaced by the iPad – and said he doesn’t know how Amazon would work its way into the ecosystem at this point.