In an effort to keep up with rapid changes in social behavior and technology, TV Guide has to reinvent its online and mobile business at least once a year. "Social is changing the business in ways we never anticipated," said Christy Tanner, executive vice president and general manager at TVGuide.com and TV Guide Mobile. "It's also a weird time to be in TV because it's changing so fast. We don't really know what's next," she said. "We're a 60-year-old brand but we're really like a six-year-old startup."
At an industry conference held earlier this week on social TV and entertainment, Tanner highlighted the dramatic shift away from real-time television viewing and described how it runs counter to the notion of social TV today. "Real time is an increasingly smaller piece of the viewing pie," she said. Nearly nine out of 10 people recently surveyed by TV Guide said they don't find new shows until after episodes or entire seasons air. "That's a behavior that's really hard to anticipate and really hard to plan for," Tanner said.
Tanner is pushing for a broader definition of social TV, one more inclusive of the non-linear experience and less focused on real time. TV Guide's survey also found that nearly one in three people are watching more paid video than they did last year. Paid content represents 10 percent of the one to five hours of average video time that consumers view on their smartphones or tablets on a weekly basis, she said.
"Mobile devices are something that have really shattered habits in the last couple years, particularly with the launch of the iPad," Tanner continued. She also noted a growing and certainly familiar trend around co-viewing experiences - two or more people in the same room, watching different shows on different devices. Almost one in two, or 47 percent, of those surveyed by TV Guide said they have co-viewed with a companion at home.
TV Guide is trying to encourage more social interaction across the board with its recently updated mobile app. The company wants to use social data to drive discovery. User check-in are powering a list of the top trending shows on any given night, for example. And the most prominent feature of the app is a watch list of TV shows, something Tanner called "the TV Guide of the future."
Her team is also using data to track how shows are performing. Interestingly enough, she said, "the most watched shows on our website and our mobile app are not the most popular Nielsen shows." Tanner made sure not to draw any hard and fast conclusions from the data just yet, but suggested that it could eventually help track which shows are most likely to be picked up for renewal and other potentially valuable metrics for studios, show runners and the like.
NBC did a recent campaign that encouraged TV Guide's online and mobile users to add its slate of new shows to their watch lists and check in. Tanner admits that "Revolution" was likely to be the hit that it is for NBC this fall regardless, but just eight days after NBC's campaign started it climbed to the No. 1 spot on TV Guide's Watchlist. It was the fourth most popular showone month prior, she added.
"Many people don't know what they want to watch when they sit down," said Tanner, adding that in those cases, "we want to help users watch shows when they air." But TV Guide also wants to help people discover and manage their favorite TV shows on their own terms, she said. "That means that you don't have to be managing and planning your Sunday night like a military campaign."
TV Guide Mobile has been downloaded more than 8 million times and more than 250,000 users have created watch lists in the last six weeks, Tanner said.
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Matt Kapko has been writing about mobile since 2006, before it became cool. Based in Long Beach, CA, he has covered mobile entertainment, digital media, marketing, and advertising for several business media outlets. A former editor and reporter for RCR Wireless News, paidContent, and iMedia Connection, Matt is a regular freelance reporter for ClickZ. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @MattKapko or drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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