It’s Not TV, it’s Social TV (SXSW)

March 22, 2011


The Panel

The incredible vantage point I had from behind the panel

One of the most talked about panels at SXSW this year, which was inexplicably held in a small conference room in the far away land of the Hyatt Regency Austin, was this one. The panel was hosted by Tim Shey (@moth), a former interactive TV producer whose company NextNewNetworks was recently purchased by YouTube. It was a lively discussion, and here were the highlights:

Fred Graver, Sr. VP Programming – Travel Channel (@fredgraver)

A former writer on Late Night with David Letterman and the panel’s jokester, Fred noted that Travel Channel found 20-50% of viewers watch the network’s shows by DVR, and same day plus 3 days figure jumps to 50%.  With that percentage in mind, Travel Channel needed a method to boost live ratings for its shows, especially for premieres.  A solution? Graver convinced notorious crank Anthony Bourdain to live-tweet during the premiere of his show, No Reservations.  Prior to the show, Travel Channel ran promos instructing viewers to “follow Tony as he live-tweets during the show,” and to “be a part of the season premiere.”  The campaign led to some of the highest ratings ever for No Reservations, and the show received over 10,000 tweets mentioning #noreservations during the live airing.

Gavin Purcell, Supervising Producer – Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (@gavinpurcell)

Late Night was capitalizing on social from the beginning, and it all started with Jimmy, who’s a big fan of Twitter.  Purcell and Fallon wanted to cultivate social early on, and connect to fans beyond a traditional one-way dialogue.  They discovered what worked best on Twitter was focusing on having conversations with people, rather than “spouting off” promotional info.  The #latenight hashtag was formed as a means for fans to share stories, and the best ones were read by Fallon on the show.  Purcell noted the hashtag wasn’t about telling jokes, but about viewers sharing stories that were humorous or interesting.  The most intriguing aspect that Purcell mentioned was something called the Second Screen VJ, a position he said would be an evolution of the community manager.  The Second Screen VJ would have access to the star, like a sidekick, and act as a liasion for fans to connect to the show, and be the face of the show’s social campaigns.  I’m looking forward to hearing more about this in future.

Chloe Sladden, Director of Media Partnerships – Twitter (@ChloeS)

Two years ago, with less than 40 employees, Twitter brought in Sladden believing the company needed to have a voice in the TV and entertainment world.  Now Sladden says Twitter can be the “scalable iTV platform we’ve been waiting for.”  While that might be an exaggeration, Twitter integration with live TV can lead to some interesting findings.  Take Jersey Shore for example.  Looking at Twitter trends over time, massive spikes in activity for Jersey Shore appear during the Thursday night, new episode airings on the east coast.   Sladden believes social elements and tools like Twitter are driving people to live TV, leading to linear TV having a resurgence.  Twitter is connecting viewers to a live event, and more importantly, with each other.  Because of the temporal nature of the experience, live in real-time is CRITICAL for advertisers and content creators because after the show’s over, no one really wants to talk about what happened in the past.

A second example Sladden brought up was the MTV VMAs.  During the show, an interstitial directed viewers to tweet in their favorite artist hashtag, which incorporated a gaming element since the more tweets an artist received, the higher the artist moved up a scoreboard.  Fans of the band 30 Seconds to Mars immediately took to Twitter and other online avenues to rally fans to boost the band’s ranking.  The call to action on TV led to an explosion of tweets, creating a “real-time feedback loop” that boosted momentum exponentially.

Lila King, Participation Director – CNN iReport (@lilacina)

CNN’s iReport has been around for over 4 years, but with the explosion of mobile devices capable of capturing pictures and video, and the growth of internet access worldwide, citizen journalists are now covering big stories.  At CNN, reporters and producers vet tweets and iReports and determine how these contributions become part of the story.  With the tragedy in Japan, iReports were used in the beginning in order to tell the story when footage was scarce; King says the audience sees what’s happening as a “call to action to tell their own stories.”  In Haiti, iReport was used by citizen reporters as a means for displaced people to get in contact with family members.  CNN built a database of missing people, and CNN cameras were used during downtime to film “I’m alive” videos.  From Haiti to Japan, the big takeaway here is that framing a call to action leads to the most interesting storytelling and above all, social good.

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