How social is killing TV as a one-way medium

Take a moment and think about how you watched television last night. Were you glued to the screen, just you and the TV? Or did you sit phone in hand, scrolling through your social channels, replying to an email and Whatsapp’ing with your friend on the other side of the country about said show?

One of my favourite quotes sums it up: “social media makes you social with the people who aren’t there, and unsocial with the people that are”. Translate this into TV viewing habits and what I find in my network is that people are connecting in communities (on Twitter or Facebook) around common interest shows and sharing their views with everyone else on that particular piece of content.

This isn’t a revelation by any stretch — sporting events generate the most conversation on social media, with the FIFA World Cup Final in 2010 seeing over 7196 tweets per second.

The Dippers
You’re not alone if you dip in and out from whatever it is you’re watching. Recent research for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region found that even though TV and the internet are used for different reasons, as media, they compliment each other. Seventy-five percent of respondents said they “go online” while they are watching TV (using their PC, tablet or phone).

It shows that the popular activities online while watching TV are email, browsing social media channels and reading news. We’re content whores! Just can’t get enough, can we? It’s an incredibly scary thought for an already cluttered media landscape, but an even more exciting opportunity for connecting.

Hashtag it!
The conversations are happening, but how are brands and content houses enabling or even engaging within these self-made communities? A very simple example is the use of a hashtag to quantify and ring-fence the conversation for those sharing on social. #ComeDineSA (a South African reality TV show) used it effectively when it screened episodes and had the hashtag appear on the corner of the screen.

Audi used the same at the end of its Superbowl ad in 2011 and saw four times more conversation on Twitter from the ad than any other during that same period. Search the hashtag while the show is on and you’ll be in stitches at the commentary from everyone else watching the show. It’s like having everyone with the same viewing habits or interests in the room with you, without the smelly feet or actually having to play host for them.

Community-driven TV
Just like sporting matches have a uniqueness to them because they are live, the queen of talk, Oprah Winfrey, led the way to audience participation outside of her in-studio audience. The dedicated housewives could tweet, post on her Facebook fanpage or even Skype call in during the live show, with a tweetwall running on the show for Oprah to pick out questions and engage. We’re now choosing content for and engaging in real time with a show only few have been privileged to see live.

My human instinct to think I can change the course of live television, in the form of having my tweet answered or Skype call into one of the largest talk shows in history, is going to get me more engaged with the show than ever before. Now doesn’t that cut through the clutter? I’m more receptive to the messaging, I’m more involved in the ads (albeit funny or lame) and I’m more likely to tune in next week with all 150-million other viewers on my social channels.

What can be done?
Content and production agencies, TV studios and sports organising committees need to take heed to the strong two-way interaction that’s happening with their shows:

  • Give it a hashtag and ring-fence the conversation on Twitter
  • If you’re sponsoring or associated with a show or sporting event in any way, it’s a great way to find and engage with a certain community (E.g. #Super15 for rugby) from the brand or show’s official social handles.
  • Create and avail the opportunity to reward and surprise those within existing conversations from your show or brand.
  • Create opportunities to pull your audience into the show or the event’s content; pick a question or comment from the social channels, have the audience choose the content, or live stream that engagement within the show.
  • Give pre- and post-show reasons to engage; real enthusiasts want to debate and talk about last night’s show until the next show starts. Provide the platform or jump into an existing community and it’s guaranteed that you’ll learn something new from that community.

Even the television manufacturers are in on this. Samsung’s new SmartTV, which links social channels within the TV screen so you can watch and browse on one screen using hand gestures, is a great example.

It’s incredibly fascinating and I could talk about it all day… but right now, I’ve got a show to watch.



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