The State of Social TV Hype – Danger Will Robinson. Danger.

Kelly Moulton, CCO

The following was written on an unexpectedly upgraded-to-upper-deck delightful flight from Amsterdam to Chicago.

1) We must be careful not to get too caught up in our hype.

Have you ever watched TV recently with non industry types, and some Tweets come up on the screen and they say, “Oh God, can they get this crap off the screen?”  This just happened to me recently, sitting at my future brother-in-law’s home in Norway, and we were watching the Prime Minister debates on TV2.  He did not make the connection that providing such Tweets is exactly what I do, nor was he at all abashed when I said, TV2 is my customer, and we are about to launch a new Twitter format for the Premier League football coverage.

He just pointed at the screen, “Read that one.  I mean really, who cares?”

I lamely said, “well, I’m not the editor man, I just provide the technology.”

Social TV

Wrong answer Kel.

I then recovered and talked about what would make it relevant – what if you could see which regions they were coming from?  Would that help a bit?  What if one Tweet was an actual featured question for the candidates?  What if there was a poll and the graphic showed an opinion meter in realtime?  What if the host made it explicit that he was using Twitter to canvas questions and would choose a few during the broadcast – would any of these make a difference?

Of course it would – and what I say above is pretty obvious.

But I am still pretty amazed how unthoughtful we all are about thinking in terms of meaningful editorial formats.  People speak in terms of “aggregated data” and “streams” rather than The Story.  I’ve just stopped going to those tech conferences thinly disguised as TV conferences.

What can social do to help source, drive and tell The Story?  Period.

What does it look like onair?  What does it look like in the audience’s hands on the mobile?

If we let technology drive this industry, it will die.  If we continue to let mobile, digital and Big Data vendors run loose around town trying to play Broadcast Journalism Catch-Up, grabbing the mikes at conferences and spouting a bunch of industry technospeak that actually does not amount to anything concrete from a journalism perspective, then social will be yet another technology fad rather than a meaningful evolution in TV Storytelling.

We need to involve Journalists.  Producers.  Graphics.  The Talent.

2)  Drip feed me please, don’t give me the proverbial firehose.  We are training an audience to engage and this will take time.  Think 10 years for mass response and appeal (if we get the formats right, that is, see #1).  We need to be patient and think in terms of seasons, years, not special events and one-off novelty exercises.

One of my favorite customers, whom I will sadly leave nameless as I am trying to make this a genuine “think piece” rather than a sales piece thinly disguised as a think piece, has enjoyed success by thinking of social tv as TV rather than “social tv” per se.  What do I mean by this?  Or rather, what does he mean by this?

He is an executive producer of a Monday – Friday daily evening news program.  Two hours.  Live.

From the get-go, he said “I do not want this social thing to be a band-aid.”

Simply:  “I want it to be good television.”

Social TV Advertising

He did not want to feel like he was ticking the social tv checkbox so he could make the digerati happy, and he did not want to do it unless the host was completely onboard and behind it.

He also did not want to do too much all at once – this is key.  Again, we are training an audience and this will take time.  Drip feed them formats one by one.

So he chose a powerful, clear voting format and got behind it:

got behind it graphically

got behind it editorially (ie it is a distinct agenda item on the daily rundown planning session with all hands on deck)

got behind it on camera – the host leads the show every day with “You are part of the conversation now.  This is a two way street.  Here’s how.”

got behind it digitally – ie created a clear landing page for the at home audience to go to and do one thing and one thing only – vote

3)  Advertising supports TV, so it needs to support Social TV as well.  Right?

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Perhaps the richest application, monetarily I mean, right now, for all protagonists in this theater, is applying social to a sponsor’s benefit.  And this will drive meaningful format innovation.

The new opportunities for advertisers as we see it:

Social TV Advertising

I am in particular fascinated by the third one – Socialize your :30.  How we can revolutionize TV advertising by wedding digital into the spot creative – in realtime.  We are making TV ads fun again – dynamic, ever changing, always fresh, and, dare I say, tune in events again.  How?  By applying what we have been learning from social tv format development to social tv advertising.

Pedestrian but powerful example:

McDonald’s promotes an Instagram hashtag, say “#mcdonalds” for ease of illustration, although I prefer “#iameatingabigassbigmac” creatively.  And every time you see a McDonald’s spot, new Instagrams appear within the spot – they rotate out and refresh back in every single time that spot airs.  And localize it.

Social TV Ads

That’s it.

There are two tracks here going forward:  Constant Innovation and Daily Format Development.  And both have only only just just begun.

4)  Creative is Paramount.  To this day I hate the word “content.”  It’s such an empty word – as if Technology should be clearly in the foreground of our minds as the determining (preening) factor – and content, is well, just content.  It fills the majestic vessel known as Technology.  Hogwash.  No matter how hard we may try to emphasize and promote Technology (perhaps because that’s all we really know?), you simply cannot escape The Story.  The Creative.  The Idea.

I say Creative must drive this industry.  We need format disruption.  We need the creation of a breakthrough-clean-slate-entirely-new show based on the power of social that opens everyone’s ideas and minds as to how the audience, the mobile and the TV screen can be wedded in a Cultural Moment.    Full confession:  I happen to be on a “Mission from God” to bring back the Golden Era of Game Shows.  But that’s just me.

Social TV

5)  We all get excited about the above, but still, You Gotta Pick a Screen for The Story.  Are you going to tell The Story on the TV with the mobile as a prop or do you think the mobile is going to drive The Story with the TV as a prop (if even necessary).  There is no right answer or wrong answer here but you need to at least have it clear in your mind.  Do not try to tell The Story simultaneously on both – bad idea.  Not bad as in texting and driving at the same time but still … just a bad idea.  I do not want to have an ipad on my lap watching background videos on characters whilst the show is playing on my TV, for example.  Nor do I want to encourage a generation of viewers to bounce back and forth frenetically in 10 and 15 second attention spans between tablet editorial and TV editorial.  I want them to know when to tune in to one and when to engage the other.    But again, that’s just me.

6)   We are still not getting the basics right.  Maybe we should just ban all other forms of engagement until we train our audience to pick up a mobile and vote.    That’s it – we form a cabal and simply do not offer any other technical or creative option except to vote.  And we riff around voting as much as we can until we feel like we as an industry have mastered a few powerful voting formats that train, over time, perhaps years, 10% of the daily TV viewership, day in and day out, to vote regularly, habitually, instinctually, enthusiastically.  Think about it …