You’ve probably heard it, too: your parents and grandparents would’ve been remiss if they failed to mention the days when watching television was considered merely an emerging trend.
“Years ago,” they would say, “There were only three channels. And we didn’t have a remote, either!” By the mid-50s, half of all households in the United States owned a TV set, but it wasn’t until the 60s that most U.S. families were able to afford color TVs.
Fast-forward more than a half-century later, and nearly 100 percent of American households own a TV. The majority own more than one. Most are equipped with crisp HD picture, DVR, on-demand movies and shows, and hundreds of channels.
But our viewing habits have changed dramatically in large part because of social media. According to Nielsen, viewers not only watch their favorite TV shows and live events, but they also participate. We use our smartphones, tablets or PCs to update Facebook statuses or to tweet using branded hashtags and interact with our favorite shows, stars, and brands.
Jenn Deering Davis, founder of Union Metrics, says Twitter leads the way for a “social TV revolution. Social television is producing big changes in how TV programs are created, delivered and consumed.”
Today a myriad of the top shows on TV embrace social media and use it to engage with their audiences. The ordinary act of watching television has become much more of an experience in today’s social-network-driven world. I’ve stumbled across new social networks such as Viggle, GetGlue and Tout that merge social and TV.
The topic prompted me to understand how this multi-screen phenomenon has transformed the way brands and TV shows interact with viewers. No longer are fans merely waiting for the next season of their favorite hit show, but they’re excited to take part in it.
Prominent Integration of Social TV
The Wharton School of Business defines Social TV as “the online interactions that occur between viewers while watching television.”
According to Nielsen, nearly 85 percent of Americans watch TV and use their smartphone simultaneously. Social networking is the biggest driver of multi-screen viewership in the U.S.
Although those numbers don’t tell us what people are actually doing while on social media sites, several prominent cable networks leverage their social media to engage with viewers and spark discussion before, during and after shows.
1. The Walking Dead
AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is one of the most popular shows in America, and some argue that its social media marketing strategy has played an important role in its popularity. The New York Times reported that this season’s premiere episode garnered 12.3 million viewers, including 7.7 million between the ages of 18 and 49âthe marquee demographic for advertisers. Both were record numbers for a non-sports program on a broadcast network, according to the report.
But the production on the big screen is enhanced by the interaction among viewers on the second and third screens. @WalkingDead_AMC interacts with its more than 1.2 million followers using hashtags including #TheWalkingDead and others relevant to that week’s episode.
Like my colleague Olivia Roat described in this post, hashtags provide people with direction. They also generate engagement and drive more viewers through word-of-mouth marketing.
The show captivates fans in a number of ways: The Walking Dead Social Game; a mobile app that allows you to “Dead Yourself” and share with friends and social media; a show entitled âThe Talking Dead,â which airs on the same network following the show.
The well-rounded social media strategy keeps fans gushing not only during the show, but also throughout the days leading up to the next episode. Capturing the attention of viewers during a two-hour window is one thing, but keeping viewers engaged for an entire week between episodes is impressive–and certainly a model all TV shows would love to replicate.
USA Network’s longest-running show, Psych, is also widely popular among fans and social media alike. It opened its seventh season to the tune of three million viewers and saw a 96-percent spike in social media activity.
Jesse Redniss, SVP of Digital at USA Network, has worked on creating a multi-screen experience that encompasses TVs, laptops, tablets and smartphones; it’s not just about connecting viewers through these platforms, but it’s about designing and creating mechanisms that connect fans during and between episodes.
Last season the dramedy implemented a “dynamic personalized storytelling mechanism” that used Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. to drive the narrative and allow fans to interact with characters. The show used the hashtag #HashtagKiller to help Psych’s main characters solve the mystery and stop the killer in his tracks.
“We created it in a way that it was a trans-media experience, using social platforms to tell this story,” Redniss said in an October interview with Brian Solis. “We decided to use Facebook and use Twitter as the mechanisms to tell the story. So everything in the script was broken down into 140-characters bits and pieces–bits of video, games, audio, images–and it all happened it real time.”
This year the show asks fans to play the #SocialSector to aid the characters in the latest mystery-riddled storyline.
The big difference between Psych’s approach and The Walking Dead’s is that Psych invites fans to take part in the show. Twitter users like to be entertained and they like to feel that they matter.
3. The Bible (History Channel)
The History Channel’s much-anticipated miniseries “The Bible” debuted to a record-setting 13.1 million viewers, which actually eclipsed the mark set by The Walking Dead. The History Channel’s social media strategy, however, has helped lift several miniseries to new heights, including “The Vikings,” which debuted immediately following The Bible on Sunday.
Last summer History’s “Hatfields & McCoys” garnered major attention in viewership, as did “The Men Who Built America,” which aired this past fall. The Twitter handle @History generates plenty of retweets, favorites and interaction among fans by live-tweeting episodes.
The History Channel is by far my favorite among the Social TV networks simply because I enjoy most of its programming. Its series “Pawn Stars,” “Swamp People,” and “American Pickers” continue to reel in new and current fans.
The biggest thing going for History (and particularly series such as The Bible), is that watching these shows is a learning experience and a brief history lesson. People, for the most part, have a thirst for knowledge. When something significant occurs within the show, viewers quickly turn to Twitter to interact with the show and the network’s Twitter channel.
Which shows do you watch that have similar social media strategies? Do they enhance your viewing experience?