Social TV – Teaching an Old Medium New Tricks

Can TV be social?

At the TV Next Summit this week, Boston-based ad agency Hill Holliday showcased television executives who are pushing and cajoling a 94-year-old industry to learn new tricks and remain relevant with audiences.

“Television must be seen as a new media; it cannot be considered traditional media,” said Mike Proulx, who leads Hill Holliday’s digital strategy team. The event coincided with the release of the book, “Social TV” written by Proulx and Stacey Shepatin, who leads Hill Holliday’s national broadcast buying practice. (Summit videos can be viewed here.)

Advertisers must experiment with new approaches, too. “You cannot think about [TV] as tried and true. It’s going to take testing and learning and that includes putting some dollars to things that may not have apparent or immediate payoff,” Proulx said.

First, some hurdles:

-Do TV viewers, often stereotyped as couch potatoes, prefer to keep one hand clutched to their favorite beverage and another on the remote? In other words, why would anyone want to comment on Twitter, Facebook, or other social networks about a TV program?

-Can TV be a social sharing experience if people watch programs at different times because of DVRs, video on demand, and programming time delays?

-Will it be possible for programs, actors, and advertisers to strike deals that work for all parties? “What piece of the action everyone gets is very much up in the air,” observed Rick Mandler, VP, digital, at ABC.

Now, the case studies.

Puppy Bowl: Bringing Brands Into Social Experiences

For Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl VIII, (human) marketers and producers sought to extend the show’s storyline to social media and introduced a brand into those social conversations.

First they brainstormed over an approach to tell the Puppy Bowl story. “Storytelling requires you to have really strong characters and with 50 puppies running around on a football field [for Puppy Bowl], it’s hard to tell who is the lead character,” said Matt Crenshaw, VP, marketing and analytics at Discovery Communications.

Grace Suriel, described by Crenshaw as “the lead social media for all-things-Animal Planet,” was meeting with the TV production team about the Puppy Bowl when the idea came up for “@MeepTheBird.” This character would serve as the commentator – and cheerleader – for Puppy Bowl on Twitter.

In a follow-up interview with me, he said this example illustrates why social media marketing must be developed in tandem with a program’s creation – not as an afterthought – as is the case with most traditional programs.

What’s more, the team also deliberated over whether to mention sponsors in tweets or Facebook posts. “If we mention a brand out of context, that’s a disservice to our fans,” he said, referring to backlash from followers and fans. “As long as a brand that’s mentioned is essential to an event or consistent with our brand values,” he said, people are typically more receptive to the mention.

For Puppy Bowl, one advertiser – the Pedigree brand – was mentioned in a Facebook post and Pedigree advertisements ran throughout the show/stadium. @MeepTheBird did not mention any brands on Twitter.

The results?


Crenshaw, citing data from Bluefin Labs, said:

  • Puppy Bowl had 215,000 mentions on the day of the broadcast.
  • 55 percent of the time someone mentioned Pedigree the day of Puppy Bowl, they also mentioned Puppy Bowl. That exemplifies the intrinsic connection users saw between the event and the brand, Crenshaw said.
  • Overall, Pedigree got 25 percent more mentions on Puppy Bowl day than an average day.

Grammy Awards: A Focus on Awareness, Activation

Over at CBS, which broadcast the Grammy Awards on Feb. 13, the team wanted to build early awareness for that show and activate a social media plan before the big event.

“Our goal was to take social and weave it throughout…before, during, and after the show,” said Marc DeBevoise, general manager, entertainment, at CBS.

The efforts included:

-A battle-of-the-bands competition, “From Your Garage to the Grammys,” that attracted entries from more than 1,000 bands and received more than one million votes. The winning band, Almost Kings, was selected to perform live online.

-Three days of live streaming events from Feb. 10 through 12, including a nominees reception, “MusiCares person of the year red carpet,” and more. An app was designed to make it easy to view these events on Android, iPhone, and iPad devices.

-Retaining Pauley Perrette as a social media reporter to “get the conversation started,” DeBevoise said. Perrette, who plays the role of a forensic scientist on CBS’ NCIS, is also a musician and served as a Grammy presenter.

Results? According to Bluefin Labs, there were 13 million comments associated with the Grammy’s compared to 12.2 million for the Super Bowl and 3.4 million for the Oscars.



So what’s next? “We’ll take event learnings and try to roll it into show learnings on something like NCIS. We’ll be working hard to do that,” DeBevoise said.

Psych: Extending a Storyline

To promote the TV show “Psych,” USA Network launched a seven-week interactive social media mystery game called Hashtag Killer.

Anyone logging into Hashtag Killer using Facebook Connect was brought into the story. “You became a character with Shawn [Spencer] and Gus [Guster] trying to track down the killer” and prevent another murder, said Jesse Redniss, senior vice president, digital for USA Network.

Participants could collect pieces of evidence from a variety of sources such as audio calls and photos – and get points. The experience included a leaderboard. “This would become an actual game rather than a one-way experience,” Redniss said.

The initiative included several components:

  • Interactivity/affinity: Finding and sharing evidence. The more users returned to the site, the more points they received.
  • Interactive crime scenes: Points were rewarded for clues identified.
  • Mini-games: Once someone collected all of the evidence in a crime scene, they could unlock a mini-game and play for bonus points.
  • Sharing: Fans could share their experience on Facebook and Twitter.


  • 130 million page views
  • 400,000 unique visits
  • 1.1 million visits
  • 300,000 Facebook shares and posts
  • 60 percent of users returned five or more times
  • 15 percent returned every single day over seven weeks
  • Participants spent an average of 19 minutes in-story. “That’s a lot longer than a banner view or a 30-second spot,” Redniss said.

Takeaways for Marketers

  1. Content must be compelling both on TV and on social channels to attract and engage audiences.
  2. Marketers cannot use cookie-cutter approaches to connecting with audiences.
  3. Measurement remains imprecise. “We are not sure what means what, yet mentions are one way we can measure social and its impact on our programs,” said DeBevoise from CBS.
  4. Brands have lots of opportunities to test out approaches only if they’re willing to take risks.

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