TV Industry Taps Twitter and Facebook for Viewers!
By the time the first ballot is opened at the Academy Awards next Sunday, millions of people will be chatting about the awards show on the Internet. And ABC will be ready.
Trying to exploit viewers’ two-screen behavior, the television network has built a companion Web site with behind-the-scenes video streams, so Oscar winners will be seen accepting an award on the TV set, then seen celebrating backstage on the stream.
Experiments like this one are a sudden priority in television land. As more and more people chat in real time about their favorite shows — on Facebook, Twitter and a phalanx of smaller sites — television networks are trying to figure out how to capitalize.
It’s as if people are gathered around the online water cooler — and the television executives are nervously hovering nearby, hoping viewers keep talking and, by extension, watching their shows.
Experts like Ian Schafer, the chief executive of the digital agency Deep Focus, say that Twitter and Facebook messages about shows may well be “the most efficient way to drive tune-in.” Though it is hard to prove the link, Mr. Schafer sees it firsthand when a news segment catches his attention or a basketball game is in overtime. “I’ll say on Twitter or Facebook, ‘You have got to tune into ‘Nightline’ or ‘60 Minutes’ right now,’ and then I’ll get people saying, ‘Oh, thanks for alerting me,’ ” he said.
The water-cooler effect makes big shows even bigger — the Grammy Awards had its highest rating in a decade on Feb. 13 — and gives small shows a new way to stand out.
On the same day as the Grammys, Howard Stern demonstrated the latter with his stream of Twitter posts during a re-airing of his movie “Private Parts.” Suddenly, some people flipped over to HBO2 to follow along, and Twitter executives were thrilled. Adam Bain, one such executive, wrote, “This is what fiction TV producers should do every week.”
Acts like Mr. Stern’s make television viewing more social, even if the viewers are in separate rooms (or states).
“In a sense, you are in the living room, watching together,” said Jeff Probst, the host of “Survivor,” who used Twitter to talk with fans during the show’s season premiere last Wednesday while flying from New York to Los Angeles. Mr. Probst plans to make such viewing a weekly habit this season.
Television executives say the chats deepen viewers’ interest in a show, making them more likely to watch next time. BET stunned its competitors last month when “The Game,” a sitcom about football players’ relationships with women, drew more than seven million viewers, thanks in part to fevered online chatter. Debra Lee, the chief executive of BET, said “we can now tell when something’s a hit almost immediately — by seeing how many of the trending topics on Twitter belong to us.”
Twitter generally lists 10 such trending words at a time, and in the evenings, television shows are well-represented.
Television networks as well as some technology companies, Twitter chief among them, see benefits to their business from this behavior. Dick Costolo, the chief executive of Twitter, said last week at a mobile conference in Barcelona that online conversations about TV shows turn the programs into events, “meaning people watch them as they happen,” blunting the impact of digital video recording.
He may have overstated the impact of Twitter — digital recording remains prevalent — but it is clear that many people feel they have to watch some shows as they premiere in order to keep up with conversations online.
“We know people are multitasking while they’re watching TV,” said Albert Cheng, the executive vice president for digital media for the Disney/ABC Television Group, which oversees ABC. “The question is, how do we tap into that and create a whole different consumer experience?”
“We don’t have all the answers,” he added, “but we are definitely trying different things and seeing how people are reacting.”
In this television season, ABC introduced iPad apps for two shows, the since-canceled “My Generation” and the medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” that sync up polls and trivia to the premieres of new episodes. Those apps, for Mr. Cheng, double as research labs.
Much of the experimentation around the online water cooler is happening on cable before it trickles up to the broadcast networks. Lisa Hsia, the executive vice president of Bravo’s digital media arm, said that its online viewing parties for “Real Housewives” reunions gave a 10 percent ratings lift to the telecasts.
“The key discovery is that we’re not just driving digital growth, we’re driving analog growth,” she said.
The experiments are gaining the attention of TV advertisers looking to leverage the online communication about their brands. For the Super Bowl last year, Nielsen created a blended media score for clients that looked at the impact of both paid media and earned media. The highest-scoring clients had what Randall Beard, the global head of advertising solutions for the Nielsen Company, described as “pass-along currency” in their social media campaigns, like a coupon.
“The best form of advertising is a recommendation from a friend and a family member,” something that social media encourages, Mr. Beard said.
During this year’s Super Bowl on Feb. 6, Twitter users set a new record by sending 4,064 messages each second, the highest number of messages per second recorded during any sporting event.
A recent study by Deloitte of 2,000 American consumers ages 14 to 75 found that 42 percent sometimes surfed the Web while watching TV, and 26 percent sometimes sent instant messages or texts.
Analysts say such behavior will become more common as tablets and smartphones become more prevalent. Programs like “The Rachel Maddow Show,” on MSNBC promote iPad apps, and ABC’s Oscar Web site will come in the form of an app.
It’s not just television networks like ABC that are eager to wedge themselves into the two-screen experience. A wide range of Web sites, including People.com and NYTimes.com, are creating Web pages and apps meant to be viewed during the Oscars next Sunday.
Mark Golin, the editor of People Digital, said the People.com site would feature real-time trivia with a $10,000 grand prize. “We do a lot of run-up content in the days and weeks before” the Oscars, he said.
“We always have a big day after. So why not during the show?”