Television has experienced a series of seismic changes in the last decade and a half. Gone are the glory days of FRIENDS and CSI pulling in over 20 million viewers a week. The water cooler has shifted from the office to a wi-fi connection in your living room and a device in the palm of your hand, granting you both a platform to disseminate your opinion about shows and events as well as consume a wealth of other content.
Everywhere they turn TV networks are facing stiff competition. Multiple services have grown in recent years to try to pull eyeballs away from television and establish new markets for themselves. At the same time, mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads have become heavy media consumption tools that can both distract from and enhance the TV viewing experience.
As brands and TV networks look for new ways to reach the mass audiences of the past, it is helpful to take a look at where consumers are naturally engaging and find ways to extend the television experience to those mediums.
Making it easier to join the conversation.
We know that viewers are talking about the shows they watch because they post their thoughts and opinions on their social networks. Chatter around programming is especially easy to track on Twitter, where viewers use the ubiquitous hashtag to categorize their posts.
Perhaps no two networks have done more to capitalize on these conversations than Bravo and Fox.
Fox regularly features hashtags such as “#Glee,” “#NewGirl,” and “#AmericanIdol” to encourage viewers to tag their shows as they watch them. This allows the network to easily monitor volumes of conversation around their shows as well create a common hashtag around which their viewers can share opinions and form a community around.
Bravo’s slate of reality TV programming has long integrated social hashtags and other digital marketing promotions to promote their shows outside of the normal programming time. From Top Chef to the Real Housewives franchise, the network heavily promotes their shows’ hashtags and Facebook pages. They host live Twitter chats with personalities and have even created a half hour program that dissects its own Real Housewives episodes and regularly features viewers’ tweets.
As these networks see more success expanding their shows’ brands (and by extension, their own brands) other networks will follow suit. Fox’s own FX and the ABC Family Channel are already implementing some of these basic tactics. It’s only a matter of time before more sophisticated approaches (Shazam, live chats, apps) become an expected part of the television viewing experience, rather than the norm. This trend will in fact accelerate as more connected TVs make their way into living rooms.
What does this mean for brands?
As advertisers know, TV networks market their shows by touting ratings. But in an era where viewers have hundreds of options on their televisions, laptops, and portable devices, the old model has started to break down. The Olympics are traditionally one of the most-watched events in the world, and yet NBC Universal was at one point anticipating a loss for carrying the Games, a fate that was avoided in part by supplementing broadcast ads with online ads on its streaming website, despite ratings being higher than the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
This is in no small part due to viewers no longer having to wait for prime time to see who won their favorite events. Twitter provided instant results and NBC’s own Olympics website had live coverage of each event. In order to keep viewers interested, NBC had to invest more in production and talent to “spice up” the events and the drama surrounding them.
As water cooler conversation becomes more centralized around mobile devices, there is a clear monetization opportunity for brands as well as the networks.
Imagine, for example, a popular sitcom with a hashtag that regularly trends on Twitter on its initial airing. A network, looking for more opportunities to leverage its audience, could provide partner brands with co-sponsored hashtag opportunities. Taking it one step further, there’s no reason why a brand and a TV program with closely aligned audiences couldn’t partner for a channel take over, leveraging the program’s following to support or launch a campaign.
Any such tactics always have to be approached with the audience in mind. Viewers don’t follow their favorite TV shows or personalities for marketing messages; they follow to feel a connection to something or someone they like. That inherent trust must always be maintained and the end-user experience has to be paramount when considering any co-branded social campaigns. Unlike the broadcast world, consumers have not yet been conditioned to expect advertising when consuming social content from their favorite programs.
As networks and brands look for more effective methods to reach the broad audiences of the past, social networks and community-leveraging experiences will become more popular. Brands have an opportunity now to create unique experiences and groundbreaking campaigns with network partners that will connect them to consumers long-term and provide them with opportunities to build relationships that translate to their own social channels.