Tune in to any live reality competition or event-based program nowadays, and you’ll almost always see a prompt along these lines: “Vote for your favorite now,” “Tell us what you’re thinking about our show,” and of course, the tried-and-true “Talk to us on social media.” It makes sense that networks and their programs are trying to connect on a deeper level with their audiences than ever before, but how is this mechanic actually working, and is there a better way forward than the sporadic, one-off approach?
To answer that question, we first need to examine where the state of viewer engagement currently lies. We know that Twitter and to some extent Facebook can be monitored and used by networks, and that they want to encourage audience engagement. We know that everyone agrees that social media isn’t going away, and that user levels are at an all-time high. We also know that over 75% of people who watch television do so with a mobile device in-hand or nearby, and use it while watching their favorite programming.
With this in mind, we also know that network programming is facing a crucial issue right now – their engagement mechanics are not pervasive enough. Taking a macro approach: some shows on air have zero-to-low levels of interactivity - such as news broadcasts - while more and more shows are starting to be built around live interactivity, such as VH1’s “Love and Hip Hop After Party Live!” With this show and others like it starting to have a real impact on the social graph way above and beyond its Nielsen rating score, you’d think that we would see similar engagement mechanics applied to a slew of other content but that’s not quite the case – yet.
So what’s holding the market back? There are several factors, but for now, let’s focus on just one – the lack of turnkey solutions able to provide end-to-end technology that visualizes consumer interactivity and user-generated content to an on-screen visualization. Networks need a solution that integrates social media and real-time engagement across their entire slate of programming – where this engagement is baked-in to the broadcast at the network level as a platform, rather than a one-off activation that needs to be customized every season or even every show.
I fully believe that when this technology piece becomes a fully-integrated part of the content creation and distribution process - in the same way that you can’t make rich content experiences without cameras and microphones – we’ll see a slew of new formats which have interactivity and social engagement at their core. Consumers will be able to engage with those formats through a plethora of distribution channels and across any device, and the users will be at the very heart of that content. It’ll be TV Everywhere on steroids.
So, just as many other industries have integrated software as a service (SaaS) offerings to underpin their infrastructure, so too will the content creation industry. In this paradigm, no longer will networks look to imbue their programming with one-off activations and services-as-needed – social media and audience engagement will be baked in to every show as an ever-evolving, “always-on” component that will gain an increasingly large role in how we view and interact with what we’re watching.
It’s relatively obvious why engagement will eventually shift (and needs to shift) in this manner – it’s proven that network executives, producers, and audiences alike are huge proponents of real-time interactivity. Why? It’s the multi-pronged approach that benefits everyone involved: executives can create content that drives measurable results, advertisers can sleep easy at night knowing that their expensive advertising is being ingested by the target audience, and consumers can become ever-closer to their favorite show by interacting with the talent and integrating with the content itself.
So, to answer the question posited at the beginning: engagement mechanics are working well on television today, but they should be – and can be – more ubiquitous for viewers. With the advent of more turnkey infrastructure, networks can offer customized solutions to their audiences and advertisers alike, across a multitude of distribution platforms and delivering ROI to their advertisers.
If it’s done right, this could usher in another golden age for content creators and the most important factor in this value chain: the audience themselves.
Jason George is the CEO of Telescope, Inc.