Social TV and the Network Approach

Not all that long ago, television went through a “dark age” full of cheesy reality shows and dull sitcoms. But as the market has continued to fragment over the last decade, competition has increased the quality of TV programming across the board. With film-quality offerings like “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead” on cable and producers like Jerry Bruckheimer creating captivating shows for the top networks, consumers can now easily justify time in front of their 52″ LEDs.

But as the market continues to fragment, traditional networks are going to have to fight hard to keep their audiences. While reality TV is still a force to be reckoned with, cable networks like AMC, FX, and HBO have created original series like “Mad Men,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Game of Thrones” that get overwhelming critical and audience response, and even Netflix has jumped in the game with an original series, “House of Cards,” that has been hailed as one of the best shows (not) on TV.

TV execs awake eagerly each morning to see the results of their “overnights,” but in a media environment where many viewers are engaging with second and third screens while they watch TV, those numbers don’t provide the complete picture. These days, audiences are live tweeting or posting on Facebook, sharing real-time reactions and opinions of characters, plot twists, and even commercials. If TV execs want a true picture of how their programming is performing, and how they can improve, it is vital that they also consider the “social overnights.”

Networks have sought insight into their audiences’ likes and dislikes for decades, but TV boxes and focus groups don’t cut it anymore. Those approaches offer such a narrow slice of data in today’s world where viewers can just download and stream their favorite shows whenever they want, wherever they want, or simply DVR them to watch later. But social networks provide a wealth of data from an enormous population sample that can actually tell networks how their programming is being received. Social data can not only provide a picture of how many people watched last night’s episode, but it can also answer whether or not they liked what they saw.

TV shows live and die by these metrics, because they translate into, you guessed it, advertising dollars. Imagine you’re a network sales rep trying to sell airtime during a particular show to a major consumer brand. Imagine going into that conversation armed with not just viewing data, but actual audience data – their likes and dislikes, their consumption patterns, even how often they watch your show and encourage others to watch. It’s not just important data; it’s a competitive edge over all the other networks.

And the competition is fierce. There’s no room for assumptions in this game – for instance, it’s easy to assume that reality shows like “The Voice” and “The X Factor” share a similar audience, but social data shows us that these audiences are, in fact, wildly different. Dedicated viewers of “The Voice” prefer country music stars, country music videos on YouTube, and NASCAR. Compared to “The X Factor” audience, they also skew a bit older (35-plus) with a larger female fan base. “X Factor” fans prefer pop music and Billboard Hot 100 artists. They’re a younger crowd, and while, like “The Voice’s” audience, they watch reality TV, they also like dramas like “Pretty Little Liars,” “Revenge,” and “The Lying Game.”

Now, if you’re a car company advertising your new minivan, or a producer torn between casting Britney Spears or Carrie Underwood as a new judge, that is an important difference. Harnessing social data to inform TV ad buys and programming decisions can eliminate wasted ad dollars, extend the life of existing TV spots, and boost ratings and viewer loyalty. For example, that car company could gauge response to their ad via “The Voice’s” Facebook fan page, begin conversations and drive engagement, and even deliver online ads to that prequalified audience.

Social intelligence is key for both TV networks and TV advertisers. For networks, it goes a long way toward predicting viewership and overall response, creating programming guided by your audience’s expressed preferences and interests, and attracting advertising revenue through commercials and sponsorship opportunities. For advertisers, it helps ensure that expensive TV spots are worth the money by prequalifying audiences and guiding not just placement, but content of ads. The days of the people meter are over; to truly see success in a continually fragmenting TV marketplace, you’ve got to boost your social IQ.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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