2014: The Year of Social TV


As you emerged from your Breaking Bad binge bunker, you might have noticed some buzz around the next big thing: social TV.

Most recently driven by Facebook’s pending but delayed TV ad offering, Twitter’s IPO announcement and some high-profile deals between measurement and media companies and the social networks, it seems everyone is talking about the intersection of TV and social.

Generally, “Social TV” is defined as,

“Technology that supports communication and social interaction in either the context of watching television, or related to TV content.”

Did you also know that Social TV was named one of the 10 most important emerging technologies by the MIT Technology Review… in 2010? Well, seriously, 2014 will be year one for Social TV, you heard it here first.

From a marketing perspective, TV advertising remains the primary recipient of the lion’s share of dollars by almost 2x and the spend keeps growing year over year–$64.5B on TV vs. $36.8B on digital and $34.1B on print in 2012. This doesn’t even account for the production costs put into creating TV commercials, which are staggering.

Social TV: Scale and Momentum

It’s difficult to understate the scale and momentum behind TV advertising, even today. While cable and digital have driven massive fragmentation of audiences and forced new thinking around content strategies, the same basic ad model has endured: create content that appeals to certain audiences, then charge brands to reach those audience segments. The larger the audience, the more expensive the placement.

This admittedly oversimplifies the art and science of broadcast media, but the point remains that brand marketers and their agencies have two big dreams for digital: simplicity and reach. Until now, digital hasn’t been an effective channel for presenting TV commercials to key audiences; it’s not a “lean back” medium and the entire world is always just a click away. While digital display had scaled, it’s also fared miserably by key performance metrics. Targeting, retargeting and programmatic buying are better, but ultimately lipstick on a pig.

This is where Facebook and Twitter come in. Social streams on mobile devices lack clutter and are personal. Post-click experiences are almost always full-screen takeovers. Additionally, the networks are well on their way to building the most targeted marketing tools available and with the size of active user bases and time spent, inventory and scale are less and less of a problem. Brand marketers’ digital dreams are finally coming true.

In this week’s On the Media, they ran a short piece called Watching Each Other Watch, which contained an interview with Kevin Slavin, assistant professor of media arts and sciences at MIT and co-founder of Everybody at Once. It’s worth a listen, but one of the points they raise is that early television was theater in your home; it was live. As they transitioned to recorded and edited content, they lost the shared audience experience. They quickly realized that was a problem when viewership dropped. Over time, for recorded and edited content, the laugh track was invented, because we inherently need each other to understand meaning. This is a small example of why the integration of social media and TV is so important.

The Second Screen

Much of today’s Social TV buzz is around “the second screen” and how social mobile use is driving our water cooler conversations about TV content into our social streams. For the first time, marketers are starting to see a future where they’ll be able to fulfill their two dreams, by extending the reach of TV advertising to digital consumers.

Twitter has made several announcements recently about their ability to target people tweeting about TV shows in real time. Facebook awarded its partner innovation prize to a new tool that allows marketers to automatically publish targeted Facebook ads within seconds of a TV commercial airing. Both Facebook and Twitter have announced partnerships with big measurement and media companies like Nielsen, Comcast, NFL and NBA. The media companies want their content and water cooler conversations in our streams because they think it will drive monetizable viewership.

Facebook and Twitter want some of that massive broadcast ad spend. Watch in the coming year for early indicators that significant broadcast ad dollars will be moving to social:

  • Are there high-profile success stories from big brands who are seeing real business value from Social TV efforts?
  • Are traditional advertisers and agencies making more Social TV integrated campaigns (see Wieden + Kennedy for Dodge below)?
  • Are there credible studies proving the viral effect of social and its impact on monetizable TV viewership?
  • Are the networks rapidly innovating around targeting, placements, automation and tools for brand marketers? In other words, is it getting easier and more effective to spend money on social advertising?

It won’t be smooth sailing. As with all things digital, the path to maturity will be incredibly iterative and dynamic. For example, here’s another article (and read the comments too) that I found insightful in elevating a few problems with the prevailing assumptions about the inevitable success of Social TV: Nielsen’s New Twitter TV Ratings Are a Total Scam, Here’s Why.

The author, Beejoli Shah, makes a few strong points that are worth pondering:

  • Twitter sentiment (and social more generally) is hard to programmatically decipher and generally, not all mentions are created equal. When I’m watching a TV show it’s likely that I’m interested in it, or at least open. If I tweet that a show was horrible, please don’t show me a commercial about it or one you think I might like.
  • It’s not yet clear that social mentions drive more TV viewers. While it would seem to make sense that if every one of your friends is talking about The Blacklist you might check it out, it doesn’t look like the most tweeted about shows are the highest rated shows.
  • The “second screen” experience cannibalizes TV advertising. If I’m tweeting during the commercials, I’m not watching them.

2014 Will Be Year One

As social mobile has proven over and over, it’s different and the old ad models just don’t apply. Getting your 30-second TV commercial into my social stream cannot be the end game.

Look at Wieden + Kennedy’s newest application of their Old Spice model for Dodge. AdWeek shares that they’ve created over 70 spots (amazing) AND they are doing Twitter response videos as well. This is an integrated Social/TV campaign: content worth sharing and content made specifically for social.

In this case, tied to a movie as well, it’s freaking complicated but awesome. Now, if they complete the effort with more mid- and bottom-funnel efforts on digital and social, it will be a campaign for the ages. Like it or not, digital–increasingly synonymous with social mobile–is complicated and the traditional ad model just doesn’t work here. While W+K and Dodge are going to extraordinary efforts, all marketers should study this campaign closely, for what they do right and where they come up short.

In short, Social TV is going to be AWESOME! If I still had a DVR I’d be able to record The Voice from a tweet. When I post that my beloved Red Sox beat the Dodgers in the World Series, I’ll get to watch a hilarious Ron Burgundy ad on my phone. Sweet.





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